The McDonald’s hot coffee spill case is perhaps the most famous personal injury case of all-time. It seems like everyone has an opinion about that case, even though very few people know any of the facts or circumstances surrounding the lawsuit. The narrative portrayed by the media failed to provide the legitimate basis for the case.
Industries and tort reformers rallied around that case to “get rid of frivolous lawsuits,” but the truth is that the case was meritorious. And even today, hundreds of people suffer severe burns from coffee and other hot liquids every year due to the careless conduct of restaurant workers. Most, if not all, of these burns are preventable.
Businesses that sell hot beverages, like coffee and tea, must exercise reasonable care in serving these drinks to consumers. Many restaurants and coffee shops brew their drinks at temperatures as high as 190 degrees, which is too hot for a person to even drink. When a liquid at that temperature comes in contact with human skin, it can cause severe scalding burns and serious injuries.
Brewing a hot drink at a high temperature in itself is not negligence, but most people assume the beverage is drinkable when served by the establishment. At the very least, consumers should be warned of the excessively hot liquid temperatures and be warned not to drink it for some period of time after it has been served to them. Although many cups have “Hot Liquid” warnings on the side, it is best to also provide a verbal warning too.
Many cases are filed because the restaurant worker failed to secure the lid to the cup before handing it to the customer. A customer assumes the lid is secured tightly and does not suspect it will fall off or come loose, causing hot liquid to spill on their person. In other cases, the employee will spill the beverage on the customer when handing it over. Both of these scenarios are not uncommon when handing a drink over in the drive-thru lane.
For in-restaurant dining, scalding burn injuries occur when the server spills hot liquid onto a seated customer. Other cases have been filed when a teapot or coffee pot is left within reaching distance of a child or infant. The child can grab and tip over the container and spill hot liquid on their head and skin. The injuries are often devastating.
Injuries from these types of coffee burn or coffee spill accidents include first-degree, burns, second-degree burns, or even third-degree burns. In severe cases permanent nerve damage can occur as well as permanent scarring as a result of the burn injury. Many victims require extensive hospitalization and even skin grafting procedures.
Hot coffee burn lawsuits demand compensation payouts for physical pain and suffering and psychological injuries. In cases with severe burns, there will be significant medical expenses that are claimed in the case. Further, the victim is entitled to compensation for scars and disfigurements resulting from the scalding burns.
All states have a statute of limitations for negligence cases. These are deadlines for filing lawsuits and if you miss the deadline, the case will be barred forever. As such, it is wise to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to investigate and file your case as soon as possible after the incident.
About this Author
Lawrence J. Buckfire (Larry Buckfire) earned his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Michigan in 1986 and his juris doctor degree from Wayne State University School of Law in 1989. He has been in private practice since successfully completing the bar exam in 1989. He is admitted to practice law in the State of Michigan, State of Ohio, and in the United States District Court.
Lawrence is the lead trial attorney and managing partner at Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. The law firm was founded in 1969 by his father David Buckfire with the principle of representing…
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