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Too Hot or Not? McDonald's Lawsuit over Hot Food Revived

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

The hot food lawsuit, will it ever go away? As a result of this type of regularly re-occurring litigation, the nation is sharply divided: do people just need use their heads about handling hot food, or on the other side of this fried divide, do restaurants really need to serve food at a temperature that would cause third degree burns?

The issue has even made it into country music lyrics:

Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars...
Thats us, Thats rite,                                                                                                                                                         Gotta love this American ride
. --Toby Keith, American Ride

According to ABC News, the jury on hot food lawsuits is not out, but back in. A McDonald's lawsuit over hot food was recently re-instated by the Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

Almost five years ago, carnival operator Frank Sutton stopped at a local Mickey D's for lunch. When he convinced the employees to come on back into the restaurant from their break and serve him, he got a chicken sandwich which burst with scalding grease when he bit into it. His lips and face were burned and, Sutton says, were blistered and bleeding by the next morning. He also says he now has permanent scarring on his lips.

What did Frank Sutton want for his pain? Not much according the ABC report. "I wasn't interested in doing a lawsuit or anything like that. It's not in my nature," he said. But when McDonald's refused to pay his medical bills or the $22,000 in earnings he lost while recovering from his ordeal, he did bring suit.

The original case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton before jury deliberations began. Quoth the judge: "There's just no evidence here of any kind of negligence. He ordered a hot piece of chicken and he got a hot piece of chicken. It was hotter than he anticipated, and that was unfortunate." 

Finding enough questions of fact to reinstate the case, the Appeals Court is serving it back up to Judge Hilton, piping hot. "It is not contributory negligence as a matter of law to merely bite into food served hot by a restaurant," Judge Dennis Shedd wrote in his majority opinion.

There was also this evidence to consider, unheard by the jury the first time around. According to Sutton's lawyer, one of the McD's employees saw Sutton's burns and said something to the effect of, "This is what happens to the sandwiches when they aren't drained completely." The appellate court decided the jury should have been allowed to hear that statement.

Since Frank Sutton's hot potato of a case has now been tossed back in the lap of Judge Hilton, he will begin hearings in March. No new trial date has yet been set.

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