According to reports, a New York woman has been awarded $52,500 through arbitration after being burned by a cup of coffee purchased from a Wendy’s in Staten Island. The incident occurred in 2012 when the woman and her daughter went to the Wendy’s drive-thru to purchase some food and a cup of coffee. The daughter, who was driving the car, was handed the cup of coffee from the Wendy’s employee. While the testimony on the exact manner was apparently inconsistent, the daughter then passed the cup to her mother who was sitting in the passenger’s seat. It appears the lid from the coffee cup may have not been properly secured during the pass. As such, coffee spilled from the cup onto the woman’s left hand and left knee. Thereafter, the woman filed suit Rawson Food Services, a New Jersey based Wendy’s franchisee, Princeton Food Services, and Wendy’s International alleging that she was burned because the coffee was both “excessively hot” and “unsafely or improperly packaged.”
Over the years, we here at Abnormal Use have taken interest in hot coffee litigation. Most often, hot coffee cases can be divided into two classes, those that allege burns as a result of the excessive temperature of the coffee and those that allege injuries as a result of some conduct of the restaurant’s employees. Aside from the infamous Stella Liebeck case, the former often face the most scrutiny in the courts and among the public. The latter are often easier to digest as they don’t premise liability on serving a product on the way it is meant to be served. Rather, the latter allege the restaurant was liable because its employees did not act in the way a reasonable attorney should under the circumstances (i.e. the employee spilled coffee on a customer in the course of handing him the cup or the employee did not properly not secure the lid to the coffee cup). This particular case is interesting (but not unique) in that it alleges that the coffee was both excessively hot and that it was not properly packaged. The reports do not mention the alleged temperature of the Wendy’s coffee, nor do they state the theory on which the award was based. For the sake of hot coffee lovers around the world, let’s hope it was more so the latter than the former.
We should also note that the arbitrator assessed the damages as $75,000, but found the woman to be 30 percent at-fault. We presume that the comparative fault must have been the result of the manner in which the woman handled the coffee.