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020404 Mcdonald's NOT Liable For Hot Drinks That Scald

April 2, 2002

LONDON - Customers of McDonald's should know that coffee or tea is served hot and can burn them if it spills, a High Court judge said in a ruling against 36 people who claimed they were scalded by hot drinks bought at the fast food chain.

High Court Justice Richard Field said McDonald's has no obligation to warn customers about the risk of scalding.

Timothy Horlock, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, had argued that that McDonald's served drinks at too high a temperature, used inadequate cups for its hot drinks and did not warn customers of the associated risks.

"There was no expectation on the part of the general public that a burn from one of these drinks could result in injuries needing skin grafts and pain relief involving morphine and pethidine," Horlock told the court when the case opened earlier this month.

At least 16 of the plaintiffs were 4 or younger at the time of their injuries, Horlock said.

However, Field ruled that McDonald's customers would not accept coffee and other drinks if they were served at temperatures so low as to prevent scalding.

"Although McDonald's owe a duty of care to those who visit their restaurants to guard against injury, that duty is not such that they should have refrained from serving hot drinks at all," he said.

Field added that the safety of hot drinks sold by McDonald's met the general expectations of the public.

"I am quite satisfied that McDonald's was entitled to assume that the consumer would know that the drink was hot and there are numerous commonplace ways of speeding up cooling, such as stirring and blowing," he said.

In 1994, McDonald's settled a suit brought by Stella Liebeck, who claimed she suffered serious burns after spilling coffee from a McDonald's restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Liebeck was award dlrs 2.9 million by a jury, which was reduced to dlrs 640,000 on appeal. The company and Liebeck did not disclose the terms of their final settlement.


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