An elderly woman in California is suing McDonald’s over a hot coffee spill that’s reminiscent of the 1992 incident that made national headlines.
Mabel Childress, a woman in her 80s, is being represented by Dylan Hackett, a personal injury lawyer and managing partner at Hackett Law Firm, according to documents filed with San Francisco Superior Court.
Hackett submitted five filings on Sept. 14 and a summons was issued to McDonald’s Restaurants of California Inc. and 10 unnamed workers on Sept. 15, according to court records.
The complaint that Hackett filed with the court alleges that employees at the McDonald’s restaurant located at 1100 Fillmore St. in San Francisco failed to tightly secure the lid on the coffee cup.
“My restaurants have strict food safety protocols in place, including training crew to ensure lids on hot beverages are secure,” Peter Ou, the franchisee who owns and operates the McDonald’s on Fillmore Street, wrote in an email to FOX Business.
“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,” Ou continued. “We’re reviewing this new legal claim in detail.”
The coffee spill reportedly happened “on or about June 13” while Childress stopped by the Fillmore Street McDonald’s drive-thru, according to the complaint filed by Hackett.
Childress tried to drink her coffee, but the cup’s hot contents allegedly spilled in her lap through the unsecured lid, causing “severe burns” on her groin, according to the complaint.
The legal complaint states Childress tried to “report the incident” and spoke with three employees at the McDonald’s, but the staff allegedly refused to help her, so she left to treat her wounds elsewhere.
“Defendants McDonald’s Restaurants of California, Inc., and Does 1 to 10 owed a duty to the Plaintiff and breached the duty of care by improperly securing the coffee cup lid which caused her to suffer from severe burns and emotional distress,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ negligence was a substantial factor in causing Plaintiff’s injuries.”
Childress is still experiencing pain and has suffered scarring from her burns, according to the complaint.
Hackett told FOX Business that Childress has burns on her stomach, groin and leg, which are still receiving treatment. He supplied photos of his client’s injuries.
“The lawsuit Mable filed is important as it [is] her hope that coffee served in the future will be served at a proper temperature, the lids be placed properly and securely and that when future customers have complaints – they will be attended to promptly,” Hackett wrote in an email.
The lawsuit has been filed as an “unlimited civil case” – meaning it exceeds $25,000 – and is seeking monetary remedies for hospital and medical expenses and general damage.
The summons issued to McDonald’s Restaurants of California Inc., and Does 1 to 10 is giving the defendants 30 calendar days to respond to the court.
A case management conference for Mable Childress vs. McDonald’s Restaurants of California Inc. has been set for Feb. 14, 2024.
Childress isn’t the first person to sue McDonald’s over a hot coffee spill.
In 1992, Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages and $200,000 for the third-degree burns she suffered when coffee she ordered from a McDonald’s drive-thru spilled into her lap, according to the jury’s verdict.
The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000 and compensatory damages to $160,000, court reports show.
Liebeck was 79 years old at the time of her case. McDonald’s and Liebeck settled the suit for an undisclosed amount.
Unlike the lawsuit Childress is pursuing, which mainly cites employee negligence, Liebeck’s case sought to convince McDonald’s to lower the temperature of the water heaters used to make coffee.
At the time, McDonald’s coffee heaters were bringing the drinks to a temperature that was between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, court records revealed. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
Liebeck’s case was closely covered by news outlets in the ’90s and became the subject of a 2011 documentary titled “Hot Coffee,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and later aired on HBO.
It’s not just hot beverages that have brought McDonald’s USA legal trouble.
In July, a South Florida jury awarded $800,000 in damages to the family of Olivia Caraballo for the second-degree burns she suffered when a hot Happy Meal Chicken McNugget fell in her lap and became lodged between the seat belt and her thigh.
Caraballo was 4 years old when the accident happened in 2019, which transpired in a McDonald’s drive-thru and parking lot in Tamarac, a city near Fort Lauderdale.
Philana Holmes, Caraballo’s mother, testified that her daughter has a scar from the nugget.
“I’m actually just happy that they listened to Olivia’s voice and the jury was able to decide a fair judgment,” said Holmes in a statement she made on behalf of her daughter. “I’m happy with that. I honestly had no expectations, so this is more than fair for me.”