The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

McDonald's Hot Coffee Lawsuit Strikes Again, and Again

Ever since 1992, when Stella Lieback, a 79-year-old woman from New Mexico, sued McDonald’s after she scalded herself with a cup of the chain’s coffee, “hot coffee” lawsuits have become the stuff of American legal lore. The writers of Seinfeld lampooned them, politicians seeking tort reform pointed to them as frivolous, and HBO produced a documentary on the subject, aptly titled Hot Coffee.

Lieback’s suit against McDonald’s was ultimately settled out of court, and the fast food giant has since been free of hot coffee claimants. Until now. Not one, but two new lawsuits were filed by Chicago residents last week against McDonald’s for injuries caused by the chain’s lava-like brew, Chicago Business reports.

Lynn Abdelal, a 4-year-old, was eating at a McDonald’s in Harwood Heights when her grandmother asked her to throw an empty coffee cup in the trash. Instead of tossing the cup, however, Abdelal went to get a refill. A McDonald’s employee handed the child a cup of freshly-brewed coffee without securing the lid or placing it in a cardboard sleeve.

Abdelal spilled hot coffee on her chest, causing severe second-degree burns and permanent scarring. Abdelal is seeking $2.5 million in punitive damages, $1 million for pain and suffering, and $250,000 in compensatory damages.

In another suit, Melissa Pettigrew claimed that she received “horrific” burns after spilling coffee on her thighs at a McDonald’s in Rockford. Like Abdelal, Pettigrew argues that the spill was caused in part by an unsecured lid.

Under a theory of negligence, Abdelal and Pettigrew will likely argue that McDonald’s employees failed to show reasonable care by neglecting to secure the lids. Abdelal also claims that McDonald’s was negligent in handing a cup of hot coffee to a 4-year-old. If the court applies principles of comparative negligence, however, it may find that Abdelal’s grandma is also to blame for failing to supervise her granddaughter.

McDonald’s may decide to settle these suits as well, in order to avoid costly litigation. Depending on the outcomes, restaurants may have another wave of hot coffee suits on their hands.

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