A South Florida jury returned a split verdict in a civil lawsuit against McDonald’s and Upchurch Foods, the franchise owner, that alleged “dangerously hot” chicken nuggets from a Happy Meal burned a toddler. The jury on Thursday found Upchurch Foods and McDonalds liable for failing to properly warn on the possible harm from the hot McNuggets. Jurors also found there was no inherent defect in selling the McNuggets, that only Upchurch Foods was negligent, and there was no breach of implied warranty.
On August 21, 2019, Philana Holmes drove her then 4-year old daughter to a McDonalds drive-thru in Tamarac, Fort Lauderdale. Holmes purchased a six-piece chicken nuggets Happy Meal. Holmes claims her daughter suffered a second-degree burn after a nugget fell and became lodged between her 4-year-old daughter’s leg and car seat. Her daughter’s thigh became “really really red” and she was screaming and yelling. Holmes argues that the meal was “unreasonably and dangerously hot” especially as it was in a happy meal intended for a child.
McDonalds issued a statement stating that while this was an unfortunate incident, it was disappointed with the verdict because it had followed all policies and procedures for serving chicken nuggets safely. A second jury will determine how much McDonalds must pay in damages.
How Is McDonalds Liable For Hot Food?
McDonalds has often been the target of hot food lawsuits. The underlying claims are usually the same: McDonalds is negligent in heating its food up, McDonalds is strictly liable for putting unsafe products (hot coffee or nuggets) into the market, and/or McDonalds has a responsibility to warn customers if their food is hot.
There is an expectation that food will be hot when served. Most customers would be disappointed if they ordered food from a restaurant and it was cold or lurk warm. However, the food that McDonalds has served has allegedly been excessively hot, such that the food causes second or third-degree burns when it meets skin. A person can get second-degree burns by lighting themselves on fire. If McDonald’s food is that hot, McDonalds should either lower the temperature of their foods or warn customers that they could get injured while eating food that hot.
Coffee Precedent Case
This case echoes the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit from the 1990’s. About thirty years ago, a woman spilled coffee on her lap and suffered third-degree burns. A jury awarded her nearly $3 million, though she settled after an appeal. This case kick-started “tort reform” laws across the country as many politicians and the public at the time believed that the woman was at fault for her own injuries.
While this case echoes the hot coffee case, there are striking differences as well. The claimant in this nugget case was only four years old – “She’s an adorable, innocent child who was severely burned through no fault of her own” as her attorneys described her.
Moreover, no one expects to get burned by chicken nuggets. Adults may readily accept that hot coffee can burn them if they drop a cup in their laps; chicken nuggets are not the kind of food that should burn a toddler. This may undermine the argument that hot nuggets are a foreseeable risk of harm, but it would also mean that McDonalds should provide appropriate warning for people who may not expect to get burned by their nuggets.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Burn Injuries?
Burn injuries can be difficult and complicated to recover from, especially if the burn is severe and has permanent health consequences. A personal injury lawyer can represent you in court and obtain the best outcome for your case.