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Family Receives $800K in Damages After Toddler Suffers Burns from McNuggets

In the wake of this case, there may be increased calls for improved regulations surrounding food safety, especially in the fast-food industry.
Cover Image Source: Facebook/McDonald's India
Cover Image Source: Facebook/McDonald's India

A Broward County jury recently made headlines when they awarded a Florida family $800,000 in damages after a toddler suffered second-degree burns from a scalding hot McDonald's chicken nugget. The case raised concerns about product safety, negligence, and the responsibilities of fast-food chains and their franchisees. 

The incident occurred four years ago when 4-year-old Olivia Caraballo, accompanied by her parents Philana Holmes and Humberto Caraballo Estevez, received a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal from a McDonald's drive-thru in Tamarac, Florida, per New York Post. Little did they know that the nuggets served were dangerously hot, reportedly reaching temperatures of up to 200 degrees.

Image Source: Pexels/Carlos Adrielton
Image Source: Carlos Adrielton/Pexels

When Olivia dropped a hot McNugget onto her lap, it became lodged between her car seat and leg for about two minutes, causing second-degree burns and severe scarring. In August 2019, Olivia's parents filed a lawsuit against McDonald's and the Florida franchisee Upchurch Foods, Inc., claiming negligence and failure to warn customers about the potential dangers of their hot food.

In May 2023, a jury found both McDonald's and Upchurch Foods Inc. liable for negligence and failure to provide proper warnings about the hot McNuggets. However, they did not find McDonald's actions negligent in causing the burn incident. Lawyers for McDonald’s argued that the nugget would not have been more than 160 degrees (McNuggets are cooked at this temperature to avoid salmonella poisoning) and that the food item was not meant to be held against human flesh for more than two minutes. The jury awarded Olivia's family $800,000 in damages to cover pain and suffering, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, and the loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, per CNN Business.

Cover Image Source: Pexels | Karolina Grabowska
Image Source: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels 

The award was divided into two parts: $400,000 for past injuries and $400,000 for damages the jury believed Olivia would continue to suffer in the future. Although the amount awarded was significantly lower than the $15 million initially sought by the family, they expressed satisfaction with the verdict, emphasizing that it represented justice and closure for their daughter's painful experience.

The infamous hot coffee lawsuit:

This case draws parallels with the infamous 1990s hot coffee lawsuit against McDonald's. In that incident, Stella Liebeck, 81 received third-degree burns after spilling scalding hot coffee on her lap.

istockphoto/Adam Smigielski
Image Source: Adam Smigielski/istockphoto

A jury awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages, igniting debates about frivolous lawsuits and corporate responsibility. However, the facts of the case were often misconstrued and it became a prime example of the need for clear communication about product risks and appropriate handling.

A Pompano Beach, Florida man suffered second-degree burns after a Starbucks employee "failed to confirm his hold on the cup" and spilled "exceedingly hot" liquid on his lap, per Daily Business Review.

The jury's decision in this recent case sends a clear message to McDonald's and its franchisees—they must take responsibility for the safety of their products and adequately warn customers of any potential hazards. In this instance, it was determined that McDonald's failed to provide instructions on the safe handling of their hot food items.

Image Source: Pexels/
Rodolfo Gálvez
Image Source: Rodolfo Gálvez/Pexels

For Upchurch Foods Inc., the franchisee held responsible for negligence and failure to warn customers, the verdict underscores the importance of proper employee training and adherence to safety standards.


Calls for better regulations and warnings

In the wake of this case, there may be increased calls for improved regulations surrounding food safety, especially in the fast-food industry. While food establishments must adhere to certain standards, there might be a demand for stricter guidelines regarding temperature control and warnings about hot food items to prevent similar incidents in the future.