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Can You Really Sue Over Hot Coffee?

May 28, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Recently, a story of hot coffee made news once again as a Philadelphia man has dropped a lawsuit alleging that Wawa’s coffee is too hot. The man did not spill the coffee on himself but a faulty dispenser in the Wawa store caused his injuries. The man has decided to not pursue his lawsuit.

The story did have people around Philadelphia talking and debating on whether or not such lawsuits are frivolous. After all, even though it happened over 20 years ago, the lawsuit against McDonald’s for hot coffee is still one of the most talked about civil cases. Both cases beg the question, can you really sue over hot coffee?

Store and Restaurant Owners and Negligence

When determining if you can file a lawsuit against a store or restaurant owner, you must first determine if they were negligent. If they were and that negligence caused your injuries, the chances are you have a pretty good case. It’s not clear why the Philadelphia man dropped his lawsuit, but perhaps he realized the Wawa store owner was not negligent.

The McDonald’s case was quite different. The public turned on the woman when that case was brought, stating that she should have known coffee was hot. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Yes, coffee is hot, but it should not be so excessively hot that it causes third-degree burns when it spills on someone. This is what happened in the case, and the woman had a right to hold McDonald’s liable.

In addition, McDonald’s had received over 700 customer complaints about the temperature of their coffee before the woman had become severely injured. McDonald’s chose to ignore those reports and eventually, someone became injured. That shows negligence, and any time a person or company is negligent and that causes injury to someone else, injured parties can and should hold negligent parties responsible.

Comparative Negligence and Hot Coffee Cases

Of course, just because one hot coffee case was successful doesn’t mean that future cases will always see the same outcome. Despite what the public opinion was at the time of the McDonald’s incident, the woman had a very good case, even though she was partly responsible for the accident.

The woman became burned while sitting in the parking lot of McDonald’s with her grandson. She took the lid off the coffee to pour in cream and sugar, and that’s when the hot coffee spilled onto her legs and caused third-degree burns. The courts took this into consideration when deciding on her case, and determined she still deserved compensation although it was ultimately reduced somewhat due to her own fault.

This is the concept of comparative negligence in Pennsylvania. This legal statute still allows injured accident victims to collect compensation if they contributed to the accident, but states that the courts must reduce the injured person’s compensation. In the McDonald’s lawsuit, the woman won $3 million, but would have won more if the jury found she wasn’t partially to blame for the accident.

In most suits, and hot coffee lawsuits in particular, the defendant will raise the defense of comparative negligence so the property owner or restaurant can reduce the amount of compensation they must pay. A skilled attorney can help fight these claims and get accident victims the compensation they deserve.

Have You Been Hurt or Injured by Someone Else’s Property? Call a Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney

If you’ve been hurt or injured by someone else’s property, whether it was your neighbor’s or a giant fast food chain, call an experienced Philadelphia personal injury lawyer for help.

At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we know there’s often more to these cases than what appears at first glance. We know that property owners have a responsibility to keep anyone that enters onto their property safe, and we want to help you hold them liable when they fail to do that. If you’re hurt, contact us at (215) 486-0123 or fill out our online form. You may be entitled to compensation, and we want to help you get it.



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