According to a report from The Buffalo News, G.B. Restaurants, the parent company of Denny’s, recently paid $500,000 to settle yet another hot coffee-related lawsuit. While this settlement is not so far removed from the 20th anniversary of the infamous Stella Liebeck-McDonald’s hot coffee case, the underlying theory of liability couldn’t be more different. In this case, Jose Adams and Sally Irizarry of Puerto Rico sued the restaurant chain after their 14-month old daughter was burned by hot coffee in a Buffalo, New York Denny’s. The daughter sustained those burns after she grabbed a cup of coffee off of the table and spilled it on herself. The crux of the lawsuit is whether the waitress was negligent in placing the coffee within arm’s reach of the child – not that the coffee was unreasonably dangerous as alleged in the Liebeck suit.
With every new hot coffee case that hits the news, the media can’t help itself but to make comparisons to the now 20-year old Liebeck case. (We tend to do a bit of the same ourselves, but that’s why you love this blog, right?) In fact, The Buffalo News began and ended its report with references to the Liebeck case even though the only link those cases share is the presence of hot coffee. Without the Liebeck case coming before it, we doubt this case would have garnered its own headline (or be the source of blog fodder).
Liebeck comparisons aside, this case has its own liability issues. We do not know much about the facts of the case, but we have to wonder how long the cup sat on the table prior to the child pulling it off. As former patrons of Denny’s, we know that table space can be limited depending on the size of the food orders. Also, as parents, we certainly can empathize with the perils of having young children in restaurants. However, we are also cognizant of a child’s reaching hands and plan accordingly. Should a waitress be responsible for placing the coffee too near the child? Maybe, but these other factors should also be considered when analyzing how the coffee got onto the child in the first place. We’ll keep you posted on this case if circumstances warrant.