A San Francisco McDonald’s restaurant is facing a lawsuit over allegations that an elderly woman suffered severe burns from scalding coffee and was denied assistance by the store’s staff.
According to court documents, the plaintiff, an 80-year-old woman named Mable Childress, filed her lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court on September 14th. The lawsuit contends that the employees at this particular San Francisco McDonald’s location failed in their “duty of care” by not properly securing the lid of a coffee cup that Ms. Childress had purchased at the drive-thru.
Childress asserts that the incident resulted in severe burns, scarring, emotional distress, and incurred hospital and medical expenses. The owner and operator of the implicated San Francisco franchise, Peter Ou, responded to TODAY.com’s inquiry via email, stating, “My restaurants have strict food safety protocols in place, including training crew to ensure lids on hot beverages are secure. We take every customer complaint seriously—and when Ms. Childress reported her experience to us later that day, our employees and management team spoke to her within a few minutes and offered assistance. We’re reviewing this new legal claim in detail.”
This is not the first time that McDonald’s has faced legal action related to hot coffee. In 1992, a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck suffered third-degree burns when hot coffee from a McDonald’s in New Mexico spilled onto her lap.
According to Childress’ lawsuit, the incident in question took place on June 13th of this year at 1100 Fillmore Street in San Francisco. The lawsuit alleges that the coffee cup’s lid opened unexpectedly when Childress tried to take a sip, causing scalding coffee to pour out and burn her severely in the groin area.
Childress claims that she tried to report the incident to three employees at the McDonald’s location, including managers, but alleges that all three “ignored” her and “refused to help” until she eventually left to seek medical treatment.
In a statement to the media, her lawyer, Dylan Hackett, emphasized that the coffee cup had not been “properly” sealed, and the coffee itself was “scalding.” Hackett further stated, “She’s an elderly lady, and she was waiting for over an hour to speak to a manager, and a manager never spoke to her. They didn’t give her the time of day. … Nobody helped her whatsoever. She had to get to the hospital herself.”
Childress’ court filing designates the lawsuit as an unlimited civil case with potential damages exceeding $25,000.
As for the most well-known McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, it involved Stella Liebeck, who suffered severe burns to her groin and legs and spent more than a week in the hospital. Initially requesting $20,000 from McDonald’s for her hospital expenses, Liebeck’s case went to trial when McDonald’s declined her request. A jury subsequently awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages.
The American Museum of Tort Law highlighted that the jury determined that McDonald’s served its coffee nearly 40 degrees hotter than coffee at other restaurants at that time. Ultimately, a judge reduced Liebeck’s $2.7 million award to $480,000, and the two parties later reached a confidential settlement.
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In another legal incident involving McDonald’s, a Florida family won an $800,000 lawsuit in July. They alleged that their 4-year-old daughter, Olivia Caraballo, suffered severe burns from a hot Chicken McNugget at a McDonald’s franchise. The family sued McDonald’s and the franchise owner, Upchurch Food, claiming that Olivia sustained second-degree burns to her leg when a nugget became lodged in her car seat. McDonald’s and Upchurch denied responsibility for the burns.