You may have come across the news headlines regarding the court decision against McDonald’s, involving a burn caused by a chicken nugget. As a plaintiff’s Personal Injury attorney, I’ve not only seen these headlines but also heard firsthand the reactions to this case, which, while not surprising, continue to disappoint me. So, I thought it would be a good idea to address this issue directly.
First and foremost, many people seem to have formed hasty conclusions based solely on the headlines, something along the lines of, “Well, nuggets are supposed to be hot, what did they expect? This is ridiculous!” However, once you delve into the details of the incident, it becomes apparent that the situation is not as absurd as it may initially seem. Food should never cause harm. Let me emphasize this: YOUR FOOD SHOULD NEVER BE SO HOT THAT IT CAUSES INJURY. It’s a straightforward concept when you think about it, yet some still view verdicts like this as examples of excessive litigation.
In this specific case, a toddler accidentally dropped a hot chicken nugget into her lap, and it became trapped between her thigh and the seatbelt. Consequently, the scalding chicken came into contact with the child’s leg, resulting in severe second-degree burns. Many may dismiss this as frivolous litigation, but there is nothing frivolous about it. Reasonable individuals and businesses should not serve food that is so hot it can injure someone if it touches their skin. This is a legitimate case, and the injury is undeniably real. Admittedly, asking the jury for $15 million may have seemed excessive, but the beauty of the legal system lies in the jury’s ability to determine appropriate awards based on the evidence presented. In this case, the jury awarded $800,000, a significant sum but far from the initially requested $15 million.
This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has faced legal consequences for serving excessively hot food. In 1992, they were hit with a $2.9 million verdict (with a significant portion as punitive damages, later reduced by the judge) after serving coffee to a woman at a temperature so high that it caused third-degree burns when she accidentally spilled it on herself. The plaintiff went into shock, required immediate medical attention, underwent multiple skin grafts, and endured months of recovery. Since that landmark case in 1992, we’ve witnessed numerous claims against various businesses involving unreasonably hot food, with “unreasonably” being the key term here.
We all understand that food is hot, and, in fact, we might send it back if it weren’t. However, nobody expects food to be so scalding that a simple mishap like dropping it results in a trip to the emergency room. That’s the point many fail to grasp. Because we don’t anticipate food to be dangerously hot, we don’t handle it as though it were molten lava. When unreasonably hot food causes injuries, the responsible party should be held accountable, regardless of what social media keyboard warriors might opine.