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Woman sues San Francisco McDonald’s after being burned by hot coffee

Pedestrians wait at a bus stop outside of the Fillmore District McDonald’s. | Source: Courtesy Google Street View

A San Francisco McDonald’s is being sued after a scalding cup of coffee caused “severe burns” on an elderly woman’s groin, a lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, claims McDonald’s employees at 1100 Fillmore St. “failed to properly secure the coffee cup lid,” which then opened when the woman, Mable Childress, tried to take a sip. The lid fell off, the coffee poured out of the cup, and Childress suffered third-degree burns to her groin, legs and abdomen, the suit alleges.

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Childress, who is in her 80s, is seeking millions in compensation for the June incident, according to her lawyer, Dylan Hackett. The amount she could receive is listed as unlimited in court filings.

The suit claims the burns were bad enough to leave Childress with “emotional distress” and scarring on her groin area, where she “continues to experience pain.” 

The lawsuit further alleges that the employees at the Fillmore McDonald’s refused to help Childress after she was burned and ignored her calls for help. 

“She was standing there for quite some time, around 20 to 25 minutes, asking for a manager,” Hackett said. 

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Cars pull up to the drive-through at the Fillmore District McDonald's. | Source: Courtesy Google Street View

McDonald’s representatives disputed this claim, however, stating that their employees and management “spoke to her within a few minutes and offered assistance.”

“My restaurants have strict food safety protocols in place, including training crew to ensure lids on hot beverages are secure,” McDonald’s owner and operator Peter Ou said in a statement. “We take every customer complaint seriously.”

This isn’t the first time searing hot coffee caused a legal headache for the famed fast-food company.

A similar McDonald’s hot coffee incident happened in 1994, leading to the first coffee-related lawsuit against the fast-food magnate. A 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck bought takeout coffee in Albuquerque, which spilled on her lap and caused third-degree burns. 

Initially, a jury offered her a cool $3 million in punitive damages for the incident. The case made headlines for its eye-watering damage award and sparked debates about frivolous or excessive lawsuits. 

The original lawsuit also raised questions about how hot McDonald’s serves its coffee: At the time of the first incident, the restaurant chain served its coffee between 180 and 190 degrees, though it’s unclear if their average coffee temperatures were lowered after the lawsuit. Hackett claims the coffee that burned Childress was much hotter than 190 degrees. 

At least two other lawsuits have cropped up relating to hot McDonald’s coffee since.