A jury in South Florida has delivered a verdict in a case involving McDonald’s and Upchurch Foods, a franchise holder. The incident occurred when a hot Chicken McNugget from a Happy Meal fell on a young child’s leg, causing her second-degree burns.
The jury’s decision was divided. The franchise holder was found negligent for failing to warn customers about the risks associated with hot food. McDonald’s USA, was also held liable, but for not providing proper instructions on how to handle the food safely.
However, McDonald’s USA was not found to be negligent, and the jury rejected the claim that the product itself was defective.
Another jury will determine the compensation amount that McDonald’s USA and Upchurch Foods must pay to the child and her mother.
The girl’s parents had filed a lawsuit alleging that McDonald’s and the franchise owner failed to adequately train their employees, neglected to warn customers about the excessively high temperature of the food, and cooked the food at an unnecessarily high temperature. Although the court played the sound of the girl’s screams as evidence, the child, who is autistic, did not testify.
In response to the verdict, McDonald’s USA issued a statement respectfully disagreeing with the decision and assured customers that they can still rely on the company to follow policies and procedures for serving Chicken McNuggets safely.
So what, exactly, are these procedures?
According to McDonald’s website, the ubiquitous (or legendary, depending upon your tastes) McNugget starts with all white-meat chicken cut from the tenderloin, breast, and rib and mixes it with a marinade for flavor and juiciness and to help them keep their fun shape. Once everything is mixed, they create the four famous McNuggets shapes – the bell, boot, ball, and bone.
Logically, given that McNuggets begin with a base of raw chicken meat, they need to be cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) to avoid food poisoning.
When using a deep fryer, the typical temperature of the oil is usually between 325°F (163°C) and 375°F (191°C), depending on the specific food being fried. However, when the food is added to the fryer, the temperature of the oil naturally decreases. It then recovers some heat but stays within a range of approximately 250°F (121°C) to 325°F (163°C) throughout the cooking process.
As Adriana Gonzalez, a Coral Gables personal injury lawyer, observed, “The McDonald’s verdict in Florida serves as a reminder that the temperature at which fast food is served can pose risks and cause harm to customers. Whether it’s scalding hot coffee or fried food, it is crucial for these franchises to prioritize food safety and the well-being of their customers at all times.”
McDonald’s isn’t alone in facing this type of lawsuit.
Fast food chains have faced numerous lawsuits related to injuries caused by hot food. Perhaps the most famous case is the notorious 1993 lawsuit against McDonald’s, in which a woman successfully sued the company and was awarded $2.86 million in damages after she spilled scalding hot coffee on herself.
In addition to that case, there have been other lawsuits targeting fast food chains. These lawsuits often involve allegations of customer deception, claims that a restaurant served something inappropriate or harmful to an individual, and accusations of negligence on the part of the establishment.
There is always an element of trust when we go to a restaurant. Collectively, our defenses are probably a little relaxed and maybe our radar isn’t as sharp when we go to a massive, well-known fast-food chain such as McDonald’s because we assume that they have thought of everything.
This McDonald’s lawsuit is a welcome reminder that we always need to keep a sharp eye on what and how we’re being served to make sure that everything is a safe as we hope it was intended to be.
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.
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