Twenty customers sue McDonald's over drinks they say were dangerously hot

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The Independent Online

Legal proceedings were issued against the McDonald's hamburger chain yesterday on behalf of more than 20 customers, most of them children, who claim they have been burnt by its tea or coffee.

Legal proceedings were issued against the McDonald's hamburger chain yesterday on behalf of more than 20 customers, most of them children, who claim they have been burnt by its tea or coffee.

The company, which has faced a series of similar court actions in the United States, is to face claims at Manchester High Court that it knowingly served drinks at dangerously high temperatures causing injuries which, in most cases, resulted from a spill.

Adrienne de Vos, of the Manchester solicitors Slater, Heelis, Collier, Littler, which is representing 13 of the alleged victims, said: "I know that some would say such drinks are meant to be hot and that people should simply take more care. This misses the point. Customers don't realise just how hot and dangerous these drinks are and the level of damage that can be caused."

Many of the children involved are toddlers who picked up a drink without realising the danger and spilt the contents down their chests. In other cases it is alleged that customers have accidentally dropped or spilt drinks on children, causing them to suffer pain and, in one case, scarring. About 20 more cases are in preparation.

Solicitors claim their evidence is similar to that which elicited $2.7m (£1.68m) in punitive damages, later reduced to $480,000, and $160,000 in compensation for 81-year-old Stella Liebeck, who spilt a cup of coffee in a McDonald's restaurant in New Mexico. She spent seven days in hospital after being scalded on her groin, thighs and buttocks.

One of the British cases involves two-year-old Matthew Crielly, from Manchester, who suffered third-degree burns to his forearm in April when a cup of tea fell on him and its contents seeped through his thick coat and a cotton top. He may need skin grafts as he grows older and his mother says he will not take a bath because he now fears hot water. Counsel for the families will argue that McDonald's was in breach of both the Consumer Protection Act (1987) and the Occupiers Liability Act (1957).

In a statement, the company said: "All our products, including drinks, are carefully prepared to precise specifications. All our hot drinks are served in cups fitted with a lid bearing the words 'caution - hot'.

"We will be examining the proceedings once issued and made available to us. However, it will not be possible for us to discuss any individual cases."