Oregon McDonald’s Sued After Teenage Girl Scalded by a Cup of Hot Water

The Oregon lawsuit calls to mind the famous 1990’s case of Stella Liebeck, who suffered third-degree burns as a result of spilling hot McDonald’s coffee on her legs.

A rural Oregon McDonald's franchise is being sued for $1.56 million after a 14-year-old girl allegedly suffered serious burns after being scalded by a cup of hot water the restaurant served.

The two plaintiffs in the Oct. 4 lawsuit allege that on July 29, 2017, a McDonald's employee at a Madras-area franchise served them a cup of dangerously hot water which spilled on the teenager. The lawsuit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of the girl, who WW is not naming because she is a minor, and her mother Shirelle Thomas.

As a result of the accident, the girl allegedly suffered partial thickness burns on her abdomen and lower body.

Partial thickness burns are often referred to as second-degree burns, and indicate that the both the external layer of skin, the epidermis, suffered damage along with the lower layer of skin, the dermis.

As a result of the burns, victims can suffer long-term consequences including painful blistering and scarring, and if a burn covers more than 10 percent of a victim's body, there's a high likelihood the person could go into shock. It's unclear what percentage of the girl's body was burned, but the complaint alleges she experienced significant and extensive scarring as a result.

The Oregon lawsuit calls to mind the famous 1990's case of Stella Liebeck, who suffered third-degree, or full-thickness burns, as a result of spilling hot McDonald's coffee on her legs. Liebeck was later awarded nearly $3 million in punitive damages in that case, drawing quite a bit of criticism. After all, she just spilled coffee on herself and who hasn't done that, right?

Well, the issue in the Liebeck case is more complicated—and similar to the issue in the Thomas case.

It's not that the beverage was spilled, it's that McDonald's allegedly served it at an unreasonably hot temperature. Typical coffee out of your home coffee pot isn't going to cause third-degree burns; similarly, hot water from your tap is unlikely to cause second-degree burns immediately on contact. Liebeck's burns were so severe that she required skin grafts on her thighs, and they were almost instantaneous. At the time, it was revealed during the trial that McDonald's instructed franchisees to hold coffee at temperatures around 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the Thomas lawsuit, however, we don't know exactly how long she was exposed to the hot water, or the temperature the water was when it was spilled on her. However, once water is heated past 120 degrees Fahrenheit, serious burns can occur rapidly. Full-thickness burns can occur in just three seconds of exposure to 140-degree water, well below water's boiling point (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

The McDonald's franchise is in Madras, a Central Oregon town about 120 miles southeast of Portland. Neither the McDonald's corporate office, nor the local franchisee, Taylor Enterprises Inc, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Shirelle Thomas and her daughter are represented by E.B. Miller Law, and have not immediately responded to request for comment.