McDonald’s Found Liable for Unreasonably Hot Happy Meal That Burned Child

Fischer Redavid PLLC has recently secured the firm’s first win against popular fast food giant McDonald’s for a Florida mother whose four-year-old child was severely burned by an unreasonably hot Happy Meal in 2019. After years of legal back-and-forth, which was exacerbated by pandemic-related delays, the defendant did not agree to settle, so the case moved to a bifurcated trial before Hon. David A. Haimes in Broward County, Florida. Our team is proud to announce that the jury found that McDonald’s and Upchurch Food Inc (the franchisee) were liable for the child’s second-degree burns due to failing to provide a warning about the food’s hot temperature, neither on the packaging nor by word-of-mouth. The case will head into the second trial later this year, which will be used to determine the damages owed to our client.

Details of the Dangerously Hot Happy Meal Case

Our clients took their daughter to a franchised McDonald’s in Tamarac, Florida, and ordered a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal. It is worth noting that the Happy Meal product is famously marketed for children and toddlers to enjoy.

Shortly after the Happy Meal was handed to their daughter in the child seat in the back of the car, the young child began to scream. A chicken nugget had fallen out of the packaging and became lodged between the child’s leg and the car seat. Our client immediately pulled the car over to see what happened and help her child. Even with her quick reaction time, the extremely hot chicken nugget was able to inflict a severe burn on her child’s leg. After a closer inspection revealed that the burn was welting and turning deep red, she took her daughter to the emergency room. Doctors there treated her for a serious second-degree burn injury.

Why Was a McNuggets Happy Meal Served That Hot?

Attorney Jordan Redavid, who is leading Fischer Redavid PLLC in this case’s litigation, demanded to know the answer to a simple question: “Why was the Happy Meal served that hot in the first place?” If a Happy Meal is a child’s product, then why would it ever be served at a temperature that can cause severe burns in a matter of seconds?

There are minimum food temperature regulations in Florida, but there are no maximum food temperature regulations. However, product liability laws as they apply to food products and the food service industry do require food to be served safely. The lawsuit led by Redavid argued that the McNuggets that burned his clients’ daughter were unreasonably hot and clearly unsafe, especially for a child. Therefore, McDonald’s acted negligently when it allowed that food to be served, which would make it liable for the injury and the resulting damages.

First Bifurcated Trial Finds McDonald’s Liable

The jury in the first McDonald’s dangerously hot Happy Meal trial found that McDonald’s and the franchisee were liable for failing to warn our client about the burn injury risk caused by the high temperature of the Chicken McNuggets. Through carefully constructed evidence and arguments brought forth by Attorney Redavid, it was shown that the defendants should have foreseen the potential burn injury risk of their product and given a warning to consumers. However, at no point during the transaction were our clients warned that the Chicken McNuggets were incredibly hot; no McDonald’s employee mentioned a warning, and the packaging has no such warning printed on it.

Food safety was the centerpiece of the defense’s strategy, but Attorney Redavid and our litigation team readily counterargued that food safety regulations were irrelevant because the child did not get sick from the Happy Meal. If food safety was highly relevant, then it must be acknowledged that the Chicken McNuggets were served at a temperature that far exceeded the temperature required to safely prepare them. Furthermore, the defense’s argument was contradictory in that it put a focus on food safety yet ignored the simple fact that product warnings – such as one that warns of a potentially high food temperature – are a staple of food safety.

When it came to arguments about liability, the defendants:

  • Stipulated that our clients were not at fault.
  • Did not dispute that the McNuggets Happy Meal caused the second-degree burn.
  • Did not dispute that the McNuggets were served at a temperature that could cause a burn.
  • Did not dispute that the Happy Meal was intended to be held and consumed by children.

Despite this series of concessions, the defendants still argued that no warning of the food’s high temperature was needed. We are appreciative of the jury for accepting our arguments to the contrary, and for finding McDonald’s and the franchisee liable. Fischer Redavid PLLC is now preparing for the second bifurcated trial to decide the damages owed to our client, which is expected to be scheduled later this year.

Liebeck v. McDonald’s – How Hot Should Coffee Be?

The entire situation draws unavoidable parallels to Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, which most people call the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit. In 1992, Stella Liebeck suffered third-degree burns that sent her into shock after a McDonald’s cup of hot coffee spilled on her legs. It was found that the coffee was served between 180-190°F, which was argued by her attorneys as defective because it was “more than likely” to cause a severe burn if spilled. She ultimately needed hospitalization and three weeks of aftercare, and she was partially disabled for two years.

When Stella tried to settle with McDonald’s for enough to cover her medical and special care bills, the corporation refused and brought the case to court. After a difficult trial, a jury found McDonald’s was 80% at-fault for Liebeck’s burns and ordered it to pay $200,000 in compensatory damages (pre-liability reduction) and $2.7 million in punitive damages. After an appeal, a confidential settlement was reached.

Liebeck’s lawsuit against McDonald’s set an important legal precedent for safe food handling methods in fast food, including how serving food at an unreasonably high temperature could amount to negligence. Similar arguments made in the “unreasonably hot Happy Meal” case now handled by Fischer Redavid PLLC returned to those concepts of food product liability and re-proved their importance.

If you want to know more about this continuing story, you can click here to read a full article from the South Florida SunSentinel (log-in or subscription may be required). To learn more about Fischer Redavid PLLC and our McDonald’s trial lawyers in Florida, please feel free to contact us online at any time.