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Not-So-Happy Meal Suit Finds McDonald's Liable For Burn Injuries

A Florida jury found fast food giant McDonald’s USA liable for a child's burns caused by a chicken nugget in a not-so-Happy Meal.

The civil suit, filed in 2019 by the four-year-old’s parents, awarded $15,000 from the company and franchisee UpChurch Foods. The parents, Humberto Caraballo Estevez and Philana Holmes, claimed that the chicken nugget in their daughter's meal was “defective, harmful, and unfit for human handling.”

“The chicken McNuggets inside of that Happy Meal were unreasonably and dangerously hot (in terms of temperature) and caused” second-degree burns on the daughter’s thighs, according to the complaint filed in a circuit court. The suit noted that because of the burn—which occurred when one of the hot nuggets fell and landed between the daughter’s leg and her car seat—the daughter “is now disfigured and scarred.”

A jury issued a split verdict, ultimately agreeing with the plaintiffs on some claims. It found that there was no warning or instructions that the hot food could cause harm when Holmes bought the Happy Meal containing chicken nuggets from a Tamarac, Florida, drive-thru for her daughter in August 2019.

Although both the plaintiffs and the defendants agreed that the McNugget caused the injuries, the attorneys for the family claimed that the nugget had a temperature of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 Celsius). The defense retorted that the piece of chicken had a temperature of no more than 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 Celsius), according to CBS News.  

“However, only Upchurch Foods was found to be negligent,” CNN Business reported. “Jurors found there was no inherent defect in putting McNuggets on the market and no breach of implied warranty.”

The parents’ attorneys insisted that McDonald’s and Upchurch Foods “should have foreseen the potential burn injury risk of their product and given a warning to consumers,” according to a statement.

A second trial in this case will determine how much the defendants will pay in damages.

After the verdict was delivered on 11 May, McDonald’s issued a statement disagreeing with the decision. Upchurch Foods, which previously denied the claims in court documents, said it was disappointed, too, according to The Daily Mail.

(Philana Holmes and Humberto Caraballo Estevez, et al. v. Upchurch Foods, Inc, et al.; Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit for Broward County, Florida; No. 19019340; 2023)