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McDonald's cleared in scalding case

27 March 2002 by
McDonald's cleared in scalding case

Fast-food giant McDonald's was today cleared by a High Court judge of responsibility for dozens of scalding injuries allegedly suffered by its customers, many of them young children.

The compensation claim, which could have run into millions of pounds, was made by 36 customers who claimed to have sustained burns and scalds from hot tea or coffee served in the restaurants between April 1996 and August 1998.

Their lawyers claimed the drinks were served too hot and in cups that were inappropriate and "defective" under the terms of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

But judge Justice Field cleared McDonald's of all legal liability to compensate those injured.

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Cups: "strong and secure"
Tim Horlock QC, who represented the 36 claimants, argued that the type of cup used by McDonald's did not allow significant cooling of hot drinks before consumption and did not provide the consumer with "a sensory understanding of the temperature of the contents." He said the temperature at which McDonald's served its drinks was "extremely dangerous since the briefest contact with human skin can cause significant injury." Field disagreed: "It is clear on the evidence that hot coffee or tea spilled if a lidded cup was dropped or violently knocked over. However, I hold that the safety of the hot drinks met the legitimate expectations of persons generally. "The drinks were served in polystyrene cups that were amply strong enough to hold their contents. The serving staff were trained to place lids securely on the cups before they were handed to customers. "The insulation efficiency of the cups meant that purchasers could not tell by holding the cup just how hot the contents were. "However, the great majority of those who bought tea or coffee would be of teenage years or older, and they could be expected to know that tea and coffee served by McDonald's was hot, and would cause a serious scalding injury if spilt on someone." He added: "I hold that in serving hot drinks in the manner in which they did McDonald's was not in breach of the Consumer Protection Act."
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