A McDonald’s in rural Oregon is feeling the heat over an incident that occurred back in July 29, 2017. According to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 4 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, a 14-year-old girl ordered a cup of hot water at the location on that summer day, and the employee serving her accidentally spilled the scalding liquid on the teen, who allegedly sustained second-degree burns on her abdomen and lower body, according to information obtained by local news outlet Willamette Week.
The lawsuit filed by the girl — whose name is being withheld because she’s a minor — and her mother, Shirelle Thomas, claims that the injuries have been classified as partial thickness burns. This kind of burn can cause painful blistering and “significant, extensive scarring” — which the suit alleges the teen has endured — by searing straight through the upper layer of skin and into the lower layer. The plaintiffs are requesting a payout of $1.56 million.
The suit is reminiscent of Liebeck v. McDonald’s, the headline-making event in 1994 when Stella Liebeck sued the fast food chain after allegedly sustaining third-degree burns to 16 percent of her body when a piping-hot cup of coffee spilled in her lap. The liquid burned through the victim’s muscle and fat, and she had to spend seven days in the hospital getting treatment, which apparently included skin grafts.
Liebeck won the case and was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages for her suffering. A jury had come to that decision after looking at graphic photos of the woman’s injuries and learning that she had been one of hundreds to get burned by McDonald’s coffee — but was the first to actually take legal action.
It was discovered that McDonald’s has a policy of keeping its hot beverages at a temperature of about 180°F, which is a whopping 60 degrees higher than the temperature at which liquid can cause serious burns. (The temperature of the water that burned the teen last year has not been reported.) Even after learning of customer injuries, it has maintained this temperature for its beverages — but after Leibeck’s victory, McDonald’s started including a “Caution: Contents Hot” disclaimer on its cups.
Attorneys for Thomas and her daughter have not yet spoken publicly about the matter, nor has McDonald’s.
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