You are on page 1of 6

Felicia Guzman HSP 480 -01W Midterm Case Dunkin Donuts Sued Over Hot Cider Issue Overview

w Jennifer Fragoso, a 24 year old of New Jersey, is suing Dunkin Donuts for burns caused by hot apple cider that was too hot. This suit, filed Feb. 11 follows National Burn Awareness Week and comes 20 years after McDonalds famous hot coffee lawsuit. Dan Cox, an expert witness and legal consultant for hot beverage suits, states On any given day there are roughly 10 hot coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate suits in progress. The majority of these revolve around coffee burns or someone getting burned by a spilled beverage. (Farnham, 2014) The Suit Jennifer Fragoso purchased a hot apple cider from a Dunkins Donuts in Belleville, N.J. in September 2012. She is complaining the ciders hotness was excessive beyond industry standards. She is also claiming that the cups lid was not properly secured so it dislodged, spilling the hot cider into her lap and causing second and third degree burns that left her painfully and permanently injured. According to Fragoso, she was sitting in her car in the parking lot when the lid came loose and tumbled over. The burns resulted in full thickness scars in her inner

thighs that cannot be healed and she may still need surgery. The counts in the suit include product liability, negligence and breach of warranties and it seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees, interest and costs. (Farnham, 2014) Frivolous Lawsuits in Hospitality This case can be compared to the McDonalds hot coffee case of 1994. An elderly woman named Stella Lieback sued the company after receiving extensive burns when the coffee spilled on her lap. She spent eight days in the hospital and underwent extensive skin grafting. McDonalds lost the case and was ordered to pay $2.86 million, but that was later reduced to $640,000. The company now puts more stern warnings on its coffee cups. This case has become the poster child for tort reformists because they see it as the essence of a frivolous lawsuit. (Shelly, 2014) Frivolous lawsuits are those filed by a party or attorney who is aware they are without merit, because of lack of supporting legal argument or factual basis for the claims. Frivolous lawsuits waste time, money, and judicial resources, and fines or sanctions may be imposed upon a party or their attorney for filling such a claim. Frivolous lawsuits may be filed for purposes of harassment or coercion, such as to coerce the defendant into paying more or accepting less money than is rightfully due. They may be filed due to lack of due diligence by an attorney in investigating a clients claim, or other reasons. Generally, the defendant must win the lawsuit before seeking a remedy for the frivolous claim. (Frivolous Lawsuit Law & Legal Definition, 2014)

Seemingly frivolous lawsuits are costing the U.S. billions and changing the way Americans live and function in society. For example in some places, fear of lawsuits has caused schools to ban running at recess and playgrounds to get ride of swing sets. What is more alarming is the threat of lawsuits may prevent action being taken against real perpetrators. (Pearle, 2007) Serving Hot Beverages Hot beverages such as coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are frequently served at temperatures between 160 degrees F and 185 degrees F. Quick contact with liquids in this temperature can cause significant burns. However, what is difficult is that even though there is a risk, hot beverages must be served at a temperature that is high enough to provide satisfaction to the customer. Studies have found that a temperature of 136 degrees F may be the optimal temperature to serve hot beverages. This is the recommended serving of hot beverages to achieve the result of reducing the burn hazard and maintaining customer satisfaction. (Diller KR, 2008) Conclusion Dunkin Donuts has not responded to this suit yet. In Dunkin Donuts defense, their hot beverage cups are labeled CAUTION: THIS BEVERAGE IS EXTREMELY HOT. According to Dan Cox, Dunkin Donuts staff have been trained not to hand customers un-lid cups of coffee: customers are handed their cup only after a staff member has secured the lid. The number one thing the fast food industry could do is buy high quality cups and lids. The problem is cost: When youre buying cups and lids by the tens of millions it become a large cost. Dan Cox

points to Australian lid-maker Smart Lid for a solution. Smart lid started selling a lid that changes color to reflect the temperature of whats inside the cup. If it is too hot than the lid will turn red. This product sells for only about half a cent to once cent more than the cost of standard lids. (Farnham, 2014) Questions 1. Do you consider this a frivolous lawsuit? What facts does the victim have to back up her case? 2. Do you think lawsuits like this can cause damage to the Dunkin Donuts brand? 3. How do you think Dunkin Donuts will respond to this lawsuit? 4. What can food and beverage companies do to avoid these burn lawsuits in the future? 5. Do you think fast food restaurants are targets for frivolous lawsuits? What other lawsuits have you heard about in the fast food industry that may seem frivolous?

Works Cited Diller KR, B. F. (2008, January 15). Calculating the optimum temperature for serving hot beverages. Retrieved March 16, 2014, from
Farnham, A. (2014, February 25). Women Sues Dunkin' Donuts Over Hot Cider; A Look Behind Beverage Suit Tsunami. Retrieved March 16, 2014, from AbcNews: Frivolous Lawsuit Law & Legal Definition. (2014). Retrieved 16 2014, March, from US Legal: Pearle, L. (2007, May 2). Im Being Sued For What? Retrieved March 16, 2014, from abcnews: Shelly, J. (2014, Febraury 24). Woman sues Dunkin Donuts after apple cider burns. Retrieved March 16, 2014, from Philadelphia Business Journal:

TEACHING NOTE A. Case Summary Dunkin Donuts is being sued for serving hot apple cider that was too hot. The cider spilled on a customer causing serious burns and permanent scaring. The customer is putting the blame on Dunkin Donuts and is seeking monetary reward. This case is similar to the McDonalds hot coffee case in 1994. B. Teaching Objective The hospitality industry, specifically fast food restaurants, seems to be the target of frivolous lawsuits. It is important for these restaurants to have an action plan so that they can quickly respond to the suit before the brand receives any damage. They also must be prepared to adjust their safety procedures to avoid similar cases in the future. C. Target Audience The target audience for this case will be for undergraduate students in a Hospitality Management program and could also be for Business Law students. This case examines a lawsuit within the hospitality industry. D. Teaching Approach 1. This could be given as a homework assignment and answers are graded on effort and being able to support their opinion. 2. This could be assigned as an in class reading followed by a class discussion of the questions. 3. This could be assigned as an in class partner assignment and each group must share their collaborated answers.

E. Discussion Answers 1. This could be considered a frivolous lawsuit because it seems to be lacking legal argument. I think the only fact she may have is that the Dunkin Donut staff did not properly secure her lid before giving it to her. However even this will be hard to prove, she will also have to prove that no other factors contributed to the spill such as her own clumsiness or that she could have been driving while it spilled. I think this could be considered a ridiculous case. 2. This can cause damage to the Dunkin Donuts brand because if they do not respond then it looks like they do not care about their customers, which may cause them to lose business. Customers may also look at Dunkin Donuts products as dangerous or a risk and they could see a sales decrease in the hot apple cider. 3. I think Dunkin Donuts will respond by defending themselves and proving their safety standards are adequate. However, I could see them lowering the temperature of their hot beverages now that this case is public. 4. To avoid this burn lawsuits I think, like the case states, that these companies should invest in more secure cups and lids, lower the temperature of their hot beverages, and provide more training for employees on safety standards. 5. Fast food restaurants seem to be the target of many frivolous lawsuits. A large issue that fast food restaurants face are people suing them for making them fat. People are claiming that it is fast food restaurants fault for their health problems and these issues have gained a lot of publicity. This resulted in restaurants including health facts and calories counts with all their products.