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Scalding victims lose fight to sue McDonald's

Martin Hickman
Thursday 28 March 2002 01:00 GMT

Thirty-six customers seriously scalded by McDonald's hot drinks lost their attempt to sue the fast food chain for damages yesterday.

A High Court judge ruled that there was no duty the American firm to warn customers of the risk from hot beverages as people who bought coffee or tea knew it was hot and could cause burns if spilled.

During a week-long hearing, Mr Justice Field had been asked to make a decision over whether the McDonald's customers – the majority of whom were children – could sue the company. Among the victims, some of whom required skin grafts, was an 18-month-old girl who picked up a black coffee mistaking it for Coca-Cola.

Timothy Horlick QC, representing the claimants, had alleged that McDonald's was serving drinks at a temperature that was too high (75C to 95C), used inadequate cups and failed to warn customers of the risks.

Mr Justice Field said in his ruling that if McDonald's had to serve drinks which avoided scalding by being cooler, the public would not accept it. He said: "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."

Part of the claim centred on the victims' complaints that the insulated cups in which hot drinks were served did not feel hot to the touch. However the judge said he said he was "quite satisfied" that McDonald's was entitled to assume that the consumer would know that the drink was hot. There were "numerous commonplace ways of speeding up cooling such as stirring and blowing."

The judge said that the safety of hot drinks at the chain did meet the general expectations of the public, rejecting all the preliminary issues which means the claimants cannot sue for damages for personal injury.

Adrienne de Vos, a lawyer for the victims, said she was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling. She said: "Given the serious nature of the injuries and the fact that they will result in permanent scarring, we are considering going to the Court of Appeal to have the judgment overturned."

McDonald's has had to pay out for scalding in the past. In 1994, McDonald's settled a case with a woman who claimed she suffered serious burns after spilling coffee bought from a McDonald's in New Mexico. She was awarded £450,000.

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