A 29-year-old woman, whose thighs and genitals were scalded when coffee was spilled in her lap at a McDonald’s Drive-Through takeaway in Clondalkin, Co Dublin, has been awarded €30,000 damages in the Circuit Civil Court.
Ciara Corboy, of Oatfield Avenue, Clondalkin, told Judge Francis Comerford that in November 2017 while being handed a large Americano at the drive-through restaurant at The Mill Shopping Centre, Clondalkin, a lid that had not been properly secured to the cup had come off causing her to be scalded in her thighs, groin and private parts.
Barrister Noel Cosgrove, counsel for Ms Corboy, said she had suffered extensive burns and, while having been treated with gel in the restaurant office, later had to attend St James’ Hospital on six occasions to have her wounds treated. The hospital had provided her with a nappy-type dressing to wear.
Mr Cosgrove, who appeared with James McSweeney Solicitors, said the defendant, Gerla Restaurants Limited, Lucan, Co Dublin, had denied negligence in a full defence and had pleaded contributory negligence on Ms Corboy’s part.
Ms Corboy said she had been accompanied in her car at the time by her then partner, Ms Amanda Garvey, who had applied first aid gel to her wounds while she was being treated in the restaurant office.
She said she had experienced excruciating pain at the time and had suffered ongoing pain for at least six weeks after the accident. She and her partner had been unable to have any intimate relations for almost eight months.
Corboy denied in cross-examination by Ms Moira Flahive, counsel for Gerla Restaurants, that she had put the large coffee cup between her legs in her car which had caused the lid to pop off. She said that while waiting to be served her car had been in gear and her feet had been on the clutch and brake but denied the spillage had been caused by her car jolting forward.
Judge Comerford said he accepted that McDonald’s training policy of providing a cup carrier with every hot drink that was handed out of the service hatch had been breached by the staff member involved. He felt training procedures should have been followed and had not been on this occasion which tipped the decision in Ms Corboy’s favour. He said cctv coverage of the incident showed the car moving following the spillage.
The judge said it was a difficult case to value from a point of view of general damages. Ms Corboy’s injuries had not fully resolved for up to eight months and photographs of her wounds were indicative of a stressful and painful injury.
“They were bad burns in an extremely sensitive area and I accept there would have been some impact on sexual activity for five months or so after the incident,” Judge Comerford said.
He said that while the injuries had been highly stressful and painful there had been no evidence of any permanent consequences as a result of them and therefore no necessity for damages into the future.
“There was also a high degree of indignity involved in the way things occurred and from the photographs it is clear there was some blistering which required ongoing dressings having to be applied,” Judge Comerford said.
He felt that despite the effects of the injuries not having lasted for a long period the court was of the view Ms Corboy should be awarded the sum of €30,000 damages together with her legal costs.
One of the most famous coffee scalding cases in legal history involved McDonalds and a 79-year-old Albuquerque, New Mexico, woman who scalded herself while sitting in her grandson’s car in 1992.
Stella Liebeck acknowledged that the spill had been her fault, having placed the coffee cup between her legs, but had taken issue with the very high temperature of the liquid she had been served. It had caused third-degree burns on her legs and genitals and had required extensive surgery.
Not wanting to go to court she had asked McDonalds to pay her medical expenses of $20,000 but the company had offered her only $800 leading to her having filed a lawsuit in 1994.
A jury suggested she be awarded almost $3million but Liebeck eventually settled for less than $600,000. The case led to a global reduction in the temperature at which drinks are dispensed and to all takeaway receptacles containing very hot liquid carrying the warning: “Contents May Be Hot.”