A South Florida jury awarded $800,000 in damages to a little girl who was badly burned whenand her mother pulling away from the drive-thru at a McDonald’s restaurant.
Lawyers for the family of Olivia Caraballo, who was 4 years old when she was burned in 2019, were seeking $15 million in damages. Jurors reached their verdict after deliberating for less than two hours Wednesday, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.
The jury’s verdict form allocated $400,000 in damages over the past four years, and another $400,000 in future damages from McDonald’s USA and its franchise operator, Upchurch Foods. A separate jury in May found the company and franchise owner liable for the injury, which occurred outside a McDonald’s in Tamarac, near Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m glad they listened to Olivia’s voice and the jury was able to reach a fair verdict,” Olivia’s mother, Philana Holmes, told reporters outside the courtroom. “I’m happy with that. I honestly had no expectations, so this is more than fair for me.”
She testified Tuesday that Olivia, now 8, calls the scar on her inner thigh a “nugget” and has decided to have it removed, the newspaper reported.
Lawyers for McDonald’s argued that the child’s discomfort ended when the wound healed, which they said took about three weeks. They argued that the girl’s mother is the one with the problem with the scar, and told jurors that $156,000 should cover past and future damages.
“She’s still going to McDonalds, she’s still asking to go to McDonald’s, she’s still driving through the drive-thru with her mom, getting chicken nuggets,” defense attorney Jennifer Miller said in her closing argument Wednesday. “She’s not putting up with the injury. That’s all the mom is.”
Defense attorneys declined to speak after the verdict.
On May, UpChurch Foods said the restaurant followed protocols when cooking and serving the Happy Meal.
“Our condolences go out to this family for what happened in this unfortunate incident, as we hold customer safety as one of our highest priorities. That’s why our restaurant follows strict rules in accordance with food safety best practices when cooking and serving our menu items, including Chicken McNuggets,” UpChurch Foods said in a statement.
Holmes testified that she bought Happy Meals for her son and daughter, who were sitting in the back seat, and was driving away when the snack fell on the child’s leg. She said the girl was screaming in pain, and when she pulled over in the parking lot, she realized the lump was lodged between Oliva’s thigh and the seat belt.
The mother testified that McDonald’s did not warn her that the food could be unusually hot. The company confirmed that they follow food safety rules, which require McNuggets to be hot enough to avoid salmonella poisoning, and that what happens to the food when it leaves the drive-thru window is beyond their control.
Although both sides agreed during the trial in May that the nugget caused the burns, the family’s lawyers argued that the temperature was over 200 degrees (93 Celsius), while the defense said it was no higher than 160 degrees (71 Celsius).
Photographs taken by the mother of the burning were shown and audio clips of the child’s screams were played in court.
“Our customers should continue to rely on McDonald’s to follow policies and procedures to safely serve Chicken McNuggets,” McDonald’s said in a statement in May.
The case may bring back memories of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit in the 1990s, which became such an urban legend about seemingly frivolous lawsuits, even though a jury and judge found otherwise.
A New Mexico jury awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages to Stella Liebeck, 81, after she was scalded in 1992 by hot McDonald’s coffee spilled on her lap, burning her legs, groin and buttocks, as she tried to steady the cup with her legs while trying to remove the lid from adding cream while driving. She suffered third degree burns and spent more than a week in hospital.
She initially asked McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover hospital costs, but the company went to trial. A judge later reduced the $2.7 million award to $480,000, which he said was appropriate for McDonald’s “willful, wanton, reckless” and “callous” behavior.
Later, in 2018, aa teenager was badly burned after being served hot water at an “unreasonably dangerous temperature” at a McDonald’s restaurant in Oregon.
In a separate lawsuit, a woman sued Dunkin’ Donuts in New Jersey after she fell in a parking lot and spilled hot coffee and burned herself. she reported settled with the chain for $522,000 in 2015.