In California, an elderly woman is filing a lawsuit against McDonald's over a hot coffee spill reminiscent of a 1992 incident that made national and international headlines.
The coffee spill occurred "around June 13" when Mabel Childress, a woman in her 80s, passed through the McDonald's drive-thru on Fillmore Street, according to the complaint filed by her attorney, Dylan Hackett.
Childress attempted to drink her coffee, but she said the hot contents of the cup spilled into her lap through an unsecured lid, causing "severe burns" to her groin area, according to the complaint.
The legal complaint states that Childress attempted to report the incident and spoke to three McDonald's employees, but they allegedly refused to help her, so she left for treatment elsewhere. Hackett alleges that employees had failed to properly secure the coffee cup lid.
The restaurant responds
Peter Ou, the franchisee who owns and operates the McDonald's on Fillmore Street, stated, "My restaurants have strict food safety protocols in place, including training staff to properly secure hot beverage lids."
Ou continued, "We take every customer complaint seriously, and when Ms. Childress reported her experience earlier that day, our employees and management team spoke with her within minutes and offered assistance. We are carefully reviewing this new legal claim."
"Defendants McDonald's Restaurants of California, Inc. and (John Does and Jane Does) 1 through 10 owed a duty of care to plaintiff and breached the duty of care by failing to properly secure the coffee cup lid, which caused her to suffer severe burns and emotional distress," the complaint states.
Childress still suffers pain and has scarring from her burns, according to the complaint. Hackett told FOX Business that Childress has burns to her stomach, groin and leg, which are still receiving treatment. He also provided photos of his client's injuries.
"We have filed this lawsuit because Mabel expects that in the future, coffee will be served at a proper temperature, that lids will be properly and safely placed, and that when future customers have complaints, they will be addressed immediately," Hackett wrote in an email.
Not the first spill
Childress is not the first person to sue McDonald's over a hot coffee spill. In 1992, Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico, received $2.7 million in punitive damages and $200,000 for third-degree burns she suffered when coffee she ordered at a McDonald's drive-thru spilled in her lap. Liebeck was 79 years old at the time.
Unlike the lawsuit Childress is filing, which focuses primarily on employee negligence, Liebeck's case sought to convince McDonald's to reduce the temperature of water heaters used to make coffee.
At the time, McDonald's coffee warmers were heating beverages to a temperature ranging from 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, according to court records. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
In July 2023, a South Florida jury awarded $800,000 in damages to the family of Olivia Caraballo for second-degree burns she suffered when a chicken nugget from a hot Happy Meal fell into her lap and got caught between the seat belt and her thigh. Caraballo was 4 years old at the time of the 2019 accident, which took place at a McDonald's drive-thru and parking lot in Tamarac, a city near Fort Lauderdale.
Philana Holmes, Caraballo's mother, testified that her daughter has a scar from the nugget. "I am happy that they heard Olivia's voice and that the jury was able to make a fair decision," Holmes said in a statement on behalf of her daughter. "I'm happy with that. Honestly, I had no expectations, so this is more than fair to me."