You may be familiar with — and even outraged by — the famous lawsuit against McDonald’s by Stella Liebeck who was burned by hot coffee.
The jury’s $2.7 million award has long been a poster child for tort reform (the judge actually reduced her award to $480,000). What’s often missed is that:
- The award was medical expenses and two days’ profit from coffee
- Immediately after the award fast food restaurants started serving coffee at around 158 °F — a temperature where it will take 60 seconds to cause third degree burns (enough time to react to a spill and avoid burns).
McDonald’s in Bangkok
The plaintiff in the case wasn’t driving. She was the passenger, the car was stopped, and she removed the coffee lid to add cream and sugar. The coffee spill caused extensive burns to her legs and her groin. She needed skin grafts.
What’s more, McDonald’s had received hundreds of documented complaints about the dangerous temperature at which they were serving coffee, and they conceded it was at a temperature where it couldn’t be consumed immediately. So McDonald’s was deemed negligent.
We now have a new McDoanld’s case from the skies. A 15 year old flying Los Angeles – Sydney is suing Virgin Australia after getting burned by hot coffee.
In the May 2015 incident,
The 15-year-old said he placed the cup on a tray table that was uneven, causing the cup to slide off and splash on his lap, burning his groin, stomach and legs.
Virgin Australia Boarding in Los Angeles
His father “described his son’s injuries as horrific and compared it to blisters to the size of 50 cent coins that looked like jellyfish.”
They allege that the flight crew refused them cold water to treat the injury after having gone through 12 bottles.
‘They said that we have got to make sure that we have enough water for the flight, especially in first class. Why even mention that?’ he said.
The boy reportedly took 3 months to heal “and during that time he was bullied at school who said he ‘walked like a gorilla’.”
They’re suing for damages — and to get airlines to start serving hot beverages with lids.
Ronald McDoanld Takes to the Skies!
I won’t pre-judge the case. I’ll just observe that complaints about tort law are usually that judgments are too punitive against companies, not that they aren’t punitive enough. Lawsuits are often more effective than legislators and regulators, and companies have a harder time lobbying the former than capturing the latter.
I hope whatever the outcome that hot drinks won’t become less available onboard. I get frustrated with Cathay Pacific as it is when they won’t serve coffee with the seatbelt sign on. I’d be happy to sign a waiver of liability in exchange for my coffee..!