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That's Hot! The Lawsuit Against Hot Food Survives

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

Dunkin' Donuts cannot be pleased about a recent complaint with shades of the famous McDonald's lawsuit. Surely everyone remembers the 1994 case against McDonald's, Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants. Woman spills coffee. Coffee is hot. Woman suffers 3rd degree burns and is awarded $2.86 million in court.

The original case was much derided, but is now part of our popular culture; remember Kramer's suit on Seinfeld, and how about the reference in Toby Keith's new tune American Ride?  Please also note the so-called Stella Awards, named for Stella Liebeck, which supposedly award the most outrageous and ridiculous lawsuits of the year. Appropriately, there seems to be hot debate over whether the cases applauded are true or fake. And yet, it looks like suing for a food-related injury that may well be avoided by the plaintiff herself is as American as apple pie. Very hot apple pie.

Witness one recent resurgence of the hot food law suit -- a hot hashbrown suit. The Patriot Ledger reported in September that a woman in Quincy, Mass, is suing Dunkin' Donuts for burns suffered by her toddler when a hot hashbrown fell out of his mouth and on to his neck where they stuck. Before you rush to judgment too quickly, the plaintiff claims she touched the hashbrowns and thought them to be lukewarm before giving it to her son. 

Hot coffee and hot food cases are still popping up like gofers on a golf course every now and again. In 2006, a now well known case of hot coffee burns was levied against Starbucks. In Griffin v. Starbucks Corp, the circumstances were a bit different than the usual fact pattern. There, the plaintiff claimed it was the barista who spilled coffee on her, resulting in burns. Sounds even worse when it includes clumsy action by the purveyor of the dangerous drink, doesn't it?

The bottom line: think before you drink. Or eat.

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