Warm beverages provide just the right amount of comfort on a cold day, but overheated beverages can be dangerous. Despite the temperature of hot a cup of coffee or tea being as high as 185 degrees, some people either do not handle the beverage with care or it is improperly served to them.
As the cases in the following story will show, accidents do happen. Some sound like legitimate cases while others are a bit questionable — but we’ll let you be the judge of that. Here are the top 10 most popular and expensive spilled hot coffee cases in history.
Fragoso v. Dunkin’ Brands, Inc
In 2012, Jennifer Fragoso was served piping hot apple cider from Dunkin’ Donuts that resulted in her receiving second and third-degree burns on her upper thighs. She charged the business and the individual Dunkin’ Donuts location with negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, and product liability, and claimed that the company put her in danger by heating her drink to excess.
Fragoso claimed that Dunkin’ Donuts failed to provide her with a beverage of a reasonable temperature, causing her to suffer severe burns and spend thousands of dollars on medical care. As a result of the spill, due to an unsecured lid, Fragoso spent several months undergoing treatment and therapy. Despite this, she still suffered unsightly, permanent scarring across her upper thighs. It was never reported whether Fragoso received money for the burn, but a Dunkin’ Donuts’ representative added that all of their cups are now labeled: “CAUTION: THIS BEVERAGE IS EXTREMELY HOT.”
Angelica Keller v. Southwest Airlines
The front row seats on Southwest Airlines do look great being that customers get extra leg room and a quick exit, but none of the seats have tray tables. Keller, traveling on a Southwest flight from Nashville to Houston, found that when the cup of tea she’d been given had spilled in her lap, she suffered serious injuries. Because of the incident, she sought $800,000 in damages with $300,000 for the pain and suffering she went through.
Keller claimed that when she was handed the cup of tea because she was in the first row of the plane and didn’t have a drop-down table, the tea spilled on her lap. The lawsuit says that the flight attendant brought her a cup of “extremely hot water” sitting in another cup which contained the tea bag and condiment packets. Keller was eventually awarded $500,000 in punitive damages.
Matthew Kohr v. Starbucks
A North Carolina police officer, Matthew Kohr, spilled a cup of Starbucks coffee in his lap during a shift of work. He claimed that the spill “aggravated his Crohn’s disease, causing anxiety and sleeplessness, and led to a loss of intimacy with his wife.” He sought $750,000 in damages to cover legal and medical expenses as well as the damages they both suffered.
The lawsuit states that the lid popped up and the cup folded in on itself, spilling the hot coffee on Kohr’s thigh and groin area. Kohr claimed the January 2012 incident had repercussions on his wife’s life, which not only forced him to take time off of work but also impacted his job performance when he was there. Ultimately, the jury voted that Starbucks was not required to pay any more to Kohr from the incident. There is also no word with the state of Kohr’s sex life.
Abdelal v. McDonald’s
As reported by the Huffington Post, the case involved a 4-year-old, Lynn Abdelal, who was given a cup of blistering hot coffee to give to her grandma, who in turn, suffered a second-degree burn when its lid fell off. She asked for $4 million in damages based on the fact that the McDonald’s employee served coffee to such a young child, in violation of company policy.
Lynn was eating at a McDonald’s in Harwood Heights, Chicago when her grandmother asked her to throw an empty coffee cup in the trash. Instead, she went to get a refill. According to the lawsuit, a McDonald’s employee handed the child a cup of freshly brewed coffee without securing the lid or placing it into a cardboard sleeve. The woman spilled hot coffee on her chest, causing severe burns and scarring. As of 2012 when the incident happened, McDonald’s still had not been served with a lawsuit.
Hedy Chen v. In-N-Out Burger
A University of California at Berkeley graduate sued In-N-Out Burger over injuries suffered when she was badly burned after spilling a cup of hot coffee on her legs. Chen said the incident happened when she and friend stopped at an In-N-Out restaurant in Oakland on April 1, 2013. Chen received second-degree burns and sought an unspecified amount in damages for her injuries.
According to the lawsuit, Chen ordered a cup of coffee and an employee handed her an “excessively hot” beverage in a paper cup without a protective sleeve. The cup was so hot that Chen couldn’t hold it and she dropped it onto her abdomen and thighs. The lawsuit alleged that she asked the employee to call 911, but the worker refused and said that she was forbidden to do so because it was against company policy to call 911. Chen said the employee gave her a bag of ice instead. This lawsuit seems to still be ongoing.
Lourdes Cervantes v. Continental Airlines
A Texas woman, Lourdes Cervantes, sued United Airlines for more than $170,000 in damages after she was burned by hot coffee while on a flight in 2011. The case stemmed from a trip on a Continental Flight before the carriers merged when Cervantes was flying from Madrid to New Jersey. According to the lawsuit, Cervantes suffered second-degree burns, and severe pain and suffering that required medical treatment and led to permanent scarring.
A flight attendant reportedly placed the coffee on a tray table in front of Cervantes, when the passenger in the row ahead of her reclined, causing the hot coffee to spill on her lap. Cervantes suffered quite a bit of pain. But what made it even worse is that she had multiple sclerosis, so when the coffee spilled on her she supposedly couldn’t get up. Continental and Cervantes wound up settling the case privately out of court, so it’s unclear how much money, if any, that she received.
Jose Adames and Sally Irizarry v. Denny’s
Parents sued a Denny’s location in Angola, New York after their 1-year-old daughter was burned with coffee. The girl received first- and second-degree burns and the family says the cost of medical care throughout her life will run to around $340,000. Some of her skin was pulled off when her clothes were removed and health care workers put her under “conscious sedation” to remove the remaining dead skin.
The incident happened in 2012 when the girl allegedly grabbed a cup of coffee and spilled it all over herself. Her parents claim that it was the waitress’s fault for placing it within the reach of their toddler. The final settlement remains confidential, but it’s believed to be near the $500,000 mark previously disclosed in court papers.
Kathleen Perez v. Burger King
A Louisiana woman, Kathleen Perez, sued Burger King for injuries she claims came from a spilled cup of hot coffee she purchased at a drive-through. The incident allegedly resulted in serious burns to Perez’s arm, chest and stomach, causing her to seek an unspecified amount in damages for her injuries. The injuries included burns, permanent scarring and discoloration, pain and suffering, disability, embarrassment and mental anguish.
Similar to the 1994 case involving Liebeck, Perez accused a Burger King employee of failing to properly secure the coffee cup’s lid, which caused the coffee within (heated to an extreme temperature) to spill. There is very little information on how this case panned out, and there are no court records about what happened to Perez and if she was awarded the undisclosed amount she sought.
Edwards v. McDonald’s
Selena Edwards, 38, of Victorville, California, sued McDonald’s over a spilled cup of coffee, which caused her third-degree burns and hospitalization forcing her to undergo skin grafting. What’s interesting about this case is that it turned out that all of the photos Edwards sent in 2014 were fake, pulled off of the Internet from a hospital’s website.
After prosecutors alleged that the evidence Edwards provided was fake, she was charged with 21 felony counts of insurance and worker’s compensation fraud. One of the photographs she pulled off the Internet was of a burned hand, but it wasn’t her burned hand. She surrendered to authorities on Oct. 29, 2014, and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Liebeck v. McDonald’s
In 1994, Stella Liebeck ordered a 49-cent cup of coffee from McDonald’s, placed it between her knees, and in the process of adding cream and sugar, spilled the coffee all over her body when the lid came off. Liebeck acknowledged that the spill was her fault, but what she took issue with was that the coffee was so hot, near boiling point, causing her to receive third-degree burns on her legs and genitals.
Liebeck claims the incident nearly killed her and required her to have extensive surgery. She said she would have accepted the coverage of her $20,000 medical bill, but when McDonald’s countered with an $800 offer, her lawyers hit back like a ton of bricks. The jury awarded her $2.9 million, but unfortunately, the judge only let her keep around $600,000.