New Hot Coffee Lawsuit settles for $522K

A woman who suffered serious burns on her face and neck after tripping over in a parking lot and spilling hot coffee on herself has settled with the chain restaurant for $522,000. coffee1

Of course, cases like this tend to get media attention because they bring to mind the infamous “hot coffee” case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s, a 1992 injury lawsuit in which a 79-year-old woman was awarded nearly $3 million in punitive damages after suffering burns after coffee spilled on her. This was spun as an outrageous sum, but firstly, plaintiff only received a fraction of that award. Secondly, the restaurant served coffee at a scalding 190 degrees – despite the fact that industry standards held anymore than 140 degrees was dangerous. Plaintiff was horribly burned, and she wasn’t the first one either. Jurors carefully sifted through all the facts and carefully considered them before deciding on the award. Anyone who cites this as an example of a “frivolous claim” need only look at the horrific injuries Liebeck suffered.

The most recent coffee injury lawsuit relied on a theory of negligence known as premises liability. Specifically, the claim was the walking surface of the parking lot wasn’t safe for patrons because it contained an exposed spike from a dislodged curb stop. Plaintiff tripped on this spike and spilled the multiple cups of hot coffee she was carrying. In addition to the serious burns she suffered, she also had numerous cuts on her hands and knees. Her attorney also indicated she sustained a back and shoulder injury and had to undergo surgery. 

Here again, advocates for tort reform will try to spin this as someone who is greedily profiting from her own clumsiness. But the fact of the matter is, business owners have a duty to keep their property in reasonably safe condition for patrons. It was a foreseeable circumstance that patrons would traverse the parking lot with numerous hot beverages because that was the nature of defendant’s business. Further, plaintiff wouldn’t be expecting to watch out for a protruding spike on a curb stop. This was a dangerous condition on site, and it wasn’t necessarily one that was open and obvious, especially by someone who is carrying a tray of hot drinks.

The claim was scheduled to go to trial in September, but like many personal injury lawsuits, the claim was settled out-of-court in advance of that date. In addition to the fast food breakfast chain, the property owner was named as a co-defendant, as was the franchise.

 

Other chain restaurants have faced down similar allegations of injury by coffee, and the results have been somewhat mixed, mostly because every case is different.

In this case, it came down to a question of basic standards for parking lot maintenance. When a property owner allows a metal spike to protrude from the asphalt in a location where patrons aren’t expecting to see it, that’s a violation of those standards.

Her attorney noted she has suffered years of debilitating injury, and her medical bills from this incident continue to pile up.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

New Jersey Dunkin Donuts settles personal injury lawsuit for $522,000, September 2015, CNBC

More Blog Entries:

Watts v. Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. – Dangerous Drug Lawsuit Under Consumer Fraud Act, Jan. 27, 2016, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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