A South Florida jury has awarded $800,000 in damages to a little girl who received second-degree burns when a hot Chicken McNugget fell on her leg as her mother pulled away from the drive-thru of a McDonald’s restaurant. The incident occurred in 2019, when Olivia Caraballo was just four years old.
Seeking $15 Million in Damages
Lawyers for the family of Olivia Caraballo were seeking $15 million in damages, but the jury’s verdict form allotted $400,000 in damages for the past four years and another $400,000 for the future from McDonald’s USA and its franchise operator, Upchurch Foods.
Verdict Reached in Less Than Two Hours
Jurors reached their verdict after deliberating for less than two hours on Wednesday, as reported by the South Florida SunSentinel.
Liable for Injury
A separate jury decided in May that McDonald’s and the franchise owner were liable for the injury, which occurred outside a McDonald’s in Tamarac, near Fort Lauderdale.
Mother Testified about Daughter’s Discomfort
Olivia’s mother, Philana Holmes, testified on Tuesday that Olivia, now 8, calls the scar on her inner thigh her “nugget” and is fixated on having it removed, the newspaper reported.
Defense Argues for Lower Damages
Lawyers for McDonald’s argued that the child’s discomfort ended when the wound healed, which they said took about three weeks. They contended that the girl’s mother is the one who has the problem with the scar, and told jurors that $156,000 should cover damages, both past and future.
“She’s still going to McDonald’s, she still asks 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 bothered by the injury. This is all the mom.”Defense Argues
No Warning from McDonald’s
Holmes testified that she had purchased Happy Meals for her son and daughter, who was sitting in the back seat, and was driving away when the nugget fell on the child’s leg. She said that the girl screamed in pain, and when she pulled over in a parking lot, she realized the nugget was lodged between Olivia’s thigh and the seat belt.
The mother testified that at no point did McDonald’s warn her the food might be unusually hot. The company testified they follow food safety rules, which require McNuggets to be hot enough to avoid salmonella poisoning, and that what happens with the food once it leaves the drive-thru window is beyond their control.
McDonald’s Coffee Lawsuit of the 1990s
The case may stoke memories of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit of the 1990s. A New Mexico jury awarded Stella Liebeck, 81, $2.7 million in punitive damages after she was scalded in 1992 by hot coffee from McDonald’s that spilled onto her lap, burning her legs, groin, and buttocks, as she tried to steady the cup with her legs while prying the lid off to add cream outside a drive-thru.
She suffered third-degree burns and spent more than a week in the hospital. She had initially asked McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover hospital expenses, but the company went to trial. A judge later reduced the $2.7 million award to $480,000, which he said was appropriate for the “willful, wanton, reckless” and “callous” behavior by McDonald’s.
Olivia’s mother, Philana Holmes, expressed her satisfaction with the jury’s decision outside the courtroom, stating: “I’m actually just happy that they listened to Olivia’s voice and the jury was able to decide a fair judgment. I’m happy with that. I honestly had no expectations, so this is more than fair for me.” Defense attorneys declined to speak after the verdict.
This case highlights the importance of food safety and proper warning labels to prevent accidents and injuries.