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Author Topic: At what temperature are retailers allowed to serve hot beverages?  (Read 10532 times)

Offline Duffield1

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In the news today that a man suffered scalding to his legs after spilling a cup of tea from McDonalds over himself at the drive through - his father claims they must have served a drink above the permitted temperature.

However, given that tea has to be made with boiling water, do fast food retailers have to allow it to cool before serving?  Or is this just the case that if you buy a hot drink, you should be more careful not to spill it?

Offline AtMyWitzEnd

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Re: At what temperature are retailers allowed to serve hot beverages?
« Reply #1 on: 02 March, 2010, 04:53:25 PM »
There is no maximum temperature set by Law. Following the "McDonald's Coffee Case" (see below), even McDonald's have not reduced the temperature of their hot beverages, maintaining 170ºF (77ºC), whereas Starbucks serve their coffee hotter than McDonald's, recommending a temperature of 175 to 185 degrees.

Stella Liebeck won her case against McDonald's (the jury in her case awarded her $2.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages because McDonald's dared to sell hot coffee). This was a special case though. This case was brought by 'ambulance chasing' lawyers who had already raised  12 previous predictability/failure-to-warn claims against McDonald's alleging that coffee was “unreasonably dangerous” and the provider was thus liable when the plaintiff spilled coffee on him- or herself.

Each case had been thrown out, mainly on the basis of common sense. People actually want their coffee served hot and expect it to be hot! Its worth mentioning that, if a McDonalds' employee spills hot tea or coffee on a customer they pay compensation without quibble, regarding the blame being on the person who spills the coffee. They expect the same notion to apply when a customer spills their own coffee.   

However, in this famous case, after 12 courts had (correctly) thrown out similar cases, a trial court in New Mexico bucked the trend when the jury claimed that Stella Liebeck deserved $2.9 million in damages. (The judge reduced the award to just $650,000, partly as an offset for her own contributory negligence in spilling the coffee).

In the UK, it would be necessary to prove Whether the Defendant was negligent in dispensing and serving hot drinks at the temperature concerned and Whether it was necessary for the Defendant in order properly to discharge any duty of care owed towards the Claimants, to dispense and serve the hot drinks at some lower temperature than in fact it did, and, if so, at what temperature.

Other considerations would be; Whether the cups used by the Defendant were of such unsound and/or inadequate construction as to render the Defendant's use of them for the service of hot drinks to its customers, negligent, Whether the lids used by the Defendant for such purposes were of such poor fit or otherwise so inappropriate as to render the Defendant's use of them for the service of hot drinks to its customers, negligent, Whether there was a duty upon the defendant to warn its customers as to the risk of scalding from hot drinks.

If there were any of these duties, whether the defendant was fundamentally in breach of them.

Also, as regards the hot drinks which it produced for sale to customers, whether the Defendant was in breach of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 because those hot drinks were "defective". Since nearly all claims for damages from hot coffee have been thrown out, it is common to claim that cup or lid are defective and not fit for purpose.

This citation from the English High Court explains why in this country, the Court judgment was that the "allegations ... that McDonald's are legally liable for these unfortunate injuries have not been made out", even though the burns suffered by many of the claimants were serious, involving severe pain and skin grafts.