Personal Injuries From Hot Drinks: Defenses You And Your Attorney May Need To Consider

For some people, a simple cup of coffee can lead to a life-changing injury. In 1994, a New Mexico jury awarded a 79-year-old woman $2.86 million after she suffered serious burns from a cup of coffee bought from a fast food restaurant. While the plaintiff eventually settled for a lower sum, the case highlighted the possibility that a hot drink injury could result in a complex and costly personal injury lawsuit. Learn more about the different defenses a defendant's attorney may make if you need to file a personal injury lawsuit due to an accident with a hot drink.

Your role in the accident

Commonly, a defendant's attorney will argue that it was you who caused the accident or the resulting injuries. Given that every case is different, the evidence that is necessary to prove this claim will vary wildly, but it's important to understand that the defendant's attorney will examine the most minor details if he or she feels they can help defend against your claim.

When it comes to hot drinks, your actions could affect the outcome of a case in many ways. For example, the way you sit or move in a restaurant or diner could make it harder for the waitress to safely pour the drink. Similarly, if you buy hot drinks through a fast food drive-thru, an attorney may argue that the way you parked your car caused the staff member to drop the drink.

The extent of your alleged role in the accident will also affect any compensation you receive. Many states operate under comparative negligence rules, where a court will use a fairly simple formula to decide how much you contributed to the accident. If a judge rules that you were equally to blame, you will normally only receive 50 percent of the damages awarded.

Some states follow contributory negligence rules. In these states, if a judge rules that you were partly to blame in any way, you will lose any entitlement to damages, even if you were only a minor factor in the incident. Unsurprisingly, in these states, defendants will push hard to prove that you caused an accident with a hot drink because they may avoid a significant compensation bill.

Assumption of risk

Assumption of risk is normally a defense that applies to high-risk activities, such as contact sports. In these cases, a defendant will argue that you knew the risk of an injury when you agreed to play the game. Nonetheless, an attorney may apply this defense in a hot drink injury case, as he or she may argue that hot drinks are inherently dangerous and that you accepted this risk when you bought the item.

The defendant's chances of success will vary according to the nature of the injury. For example, if you burn your mouth when you sip a drink that clearly displays a 'warning--hot drink' sign, the defendant may argue that you understood the risk. Any steps that the defendant's employees take to protect you while dispensing the drink (a verbal warning, offering a carry case) may also come into consideration here.

Nonetheless, this defense is unlikely to hold true in a lot of cases, as hot drink injuries often occur when somebody accidentally spills or drops the drink on you. Assumption of risk only applies when the possible injury is inherent to the activity, and a burned leg or arm has nothing to do with drinking a cup of hot coffee.

Your handling of the case

In many lawsuits, a defendant's attorney will argue that you have failed to handle the case correctly. In these cases, the attorney will focus on a procedural or technical element of the case that means you cannot legally continue with your lawsuit.

Examples would include:

  • Failure to meet the statute of limitations. In all states, there is a fixed period in which you must file a claim after an injury. If you leave it too long, you cannot file a lawsuit.

  • Failure to state a claim. In this case, the defendant's attorney will argue that one of the essential elements of a personal injury lawsuit was missing. For example, you must adequately show that the defendant caused the accident (causation) with the hot drink.

It's vital that you hire an attorney to help with your lawsuit. He or she can help you follow the correct legal process, which, in turn, will help you challenge any of these defenses.

Hot drink injuries can easily occur, but if you need to file a personal injury lawsuit, you will face significant opposition from the defendant's attorney. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney, such as those at Vaughan & Vaughan, for more information and advice.