In 1994, a 79-year-old woman by the name of Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot. This unusual case (Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants), which she won, by the way, is now famously known as the hot coffee lawsuit and is the reason why everything that is supposed to be hot reads “caution hot” nowadays.
In the end, Liebeck, who suffered from third-degree burns in her pelvic region, was awarded $2.86 million for punitive damages. Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment.
In this case, Liebeck’s lawyer argued that McDonald’s coffee was defective, claiming it was too hot (at 180 – 190 °F) to be consumed.
Fast forward to 2017, and we have Jacqueline Patton – a 37-year-old Whole Foods shopper who is suing Whole Foods because her tea was too hot and burned her hand when it spilled on her.
According to the suit, Whole Foods “carelessly, recklessly, and/or intentionally, sold and served excessively hot tea in a negligent and dangerous fashion to wit: the lid on the cup (dislodged) and its excessively hot contents spilled on the plaintiff.”
“The hot tea had been heated beyond industry standards to the point where patrons could not safely consume it because it was not reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose,” the suit states.
Patton says that she was burned on various parts of her body and was painfully and permanently injured.
The suit was filed on behalf of Patton and her husband, Donovan, who claims he has lost the “services, society, and consortium of his wife.”
In Other Whole Foods News
On Friday, June 2, a federal appeals court ordered Whole Foods Market, Inc., to face a class-action lawsuit accusing it of overcharging shoppers in New York City by overstating the weight of pre-packaged food in its supermarkets.
According to Reuters, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a lower court judge had erred in concluding that the plaintiff Sean John had no right to sue because he could not prove that Whole Foods overcharged him for any specific purchase.
John sued Whole Foods just one month after New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs said that the 80 prepackaged foods it tested had mislabeled weights, 89 percent of which failed to meet federal labeling standards. Overcharges ranged from 80 cents for pecan panko to $14.84 for coconut shrimp, Reuters reports.
In December, Whole Foods (based in Austin, Texas) agreed to pay $500,000 to settle with New York, following apologies from co-chief executives, John Mackey and Walter Robb.
According to Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier, John may face “significant evidentiary obstacles” but had legal standing to sue, with or without proof that the items were mislabeled.
“According to the DCA’s investigation, Whole Foods packages of cheese and cupcakes were systematically and routinely mislabeled and overpriced, and John regularly purchased Whole Foods packages of cheese and cupcakes throughout the relevant period,” Lohier wrote. “Taking these allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, it is plausible that John overpaid for at least one product,” Lohier added.
The case was returned to U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan.
In an email, Whole Foods said it was disappointed with the decision and “will continue to vigorously defend against the plaintiff’s meritless claims.”
John’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2010, John sought to represent everyone who bought prepackaged goods at Whole Foods stores in New York City.
This case is now known as John v Whole Foods Market Group, Inc., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-986.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]