In-N-Out Burger held liable for burns suffered from hot coffee

If you watched the news in the 1990s then chances are you probably heard about the famous products liability case Liebeck v. McDonald’s. As you may remember, the case involved a 79-year-old woman who suffered third-degree burns after spilling a cup of the fast food chain’s coffee in her lap. She sued and was awarded nearly $3 million in damages, which were later reduced significantly.

Now another fast-food chain, In-N-Out Burger, has found itself facing similar litigation not only for its scalding coffee but because of how its employees reacted after a customer was severely burned. Much like the case before it, this new case highlights the importance of holding companies accountable when their negligence causes serious injury.

This most recent case of products liability happened on April 1, 2013 when a cup of “excessively hot” coffee spilled in the lap of a woman at an Oakland In-N-Out. Filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the woman claims in her lawsuit that despite her cries for help, employees at the fast food restaurant refused to call 911. They claimed it violated company policy and gave her an ice pack instead.

But as the woman’s lawyer points out, she suffered second-degree burns to which ice should not be applied. Had the employees contacted emergency responders, they would have known that this form of treatment can increase scarring. And as for not calling 911, it was pointed out recently by a spokesman for In-N-Out that despite what the employees told the woman they are “authorized to dial 911 in emergency situations.” Failing to do so “violates their duty of care to customers,” explains the woman’s lawyer.

Although the woman in this case will likely recover from her injuries, she did require three days of treatment at the Bothin Burn Center at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. As our readers can imagine, a hospital stay such as this would accumulate substantial medical bills that might not be completely covered by the woman’s insurance.

Although the amount of damages the woman is suing for have not been disclosed at this time, it’s likely that these medical bills will be taken into consideration. It’s likely that her claim is also seeking punitive damages that will hold the restaurant accountable for its negligence. Whether this case will force In-N-Out to educate its employees better about reacting to emergency situations or not remains to be seen.

Source: New York Daily Mail, “California woman sues In-N-Out Burger, claims employees refused to call 911 when she burned herself with hot coffee,” Lee Moran, May 28, 2014

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