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Ever since an elderly woman burned herself with McDonald's coffee and won a $3-million jury verdict, lawsuits alleging that purveyors of edibles are negligent when serving hot food have been popping up across the country. The latest of these lawsuits involves the happiest purveyor of all--Disney.
While vacationing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Michael and Maria Harris sat down at one of the resort's restaurants with their 4-year-old son. Somehow, after the boy's food was set down, nacho cheese spilled onto his face, causing second and third degree burns.
And thus, the Disney nacho lawsuit was born.
Though the exact temperature of the nacho cheese is not known, the family's attorney alleges that to cause such severe burns, the cheese would have had to have been at least 160F. At this point, it is also unknown if the cheese was part of a children's meal, or on a regular menu. Regardless, the burns have caused permanent scarring and have caused the child and his parents to suffer from extreme emotional distress, according to CBS.
The Disney nacho lawsuit asserts that Disney was negligent for failing to make any effort to keep the nacho cheese at a reasonable temperature. The restaurant arguably had a duty to make its food safe for consumption, which would include temperature.
Though it is very sad that a young boy went through a traumatizing experience, most people are drawn to these kinds of lawsuits for one reason.
Will they or won't they recover as much as the McDonald's woman?
Not widely publicized in the McDonald's coffee case was the fact that the majority of the jury award was for punitive damages. Punitive damages are "extra" damages that are designed to punish defendants who do particularly heinous things or who need to learn a lesson. Punitive damages are most often awarded when a defendant knew that the injury could occur, yet repeatedly did nothing about it.
This was what happened in the McDonald's coffee case. It turned out that McDonald's had received hundreds of complaints from customers stating that the hot coffee had caused severe burns. Despite this, the company did nothing.
Right now, no one knows if there have been complaints about the temperature of the cheese at the center of the Disney nacho lawsuit. If there were, it's possible that a jury will award a large sum in punitive damages to punish the company. If there weren't, the family isn't likely to recover as much as the McDonald's woman, but it is always possible.