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Florida jury awards $800,000 to family of girl who suffered second-degree burns from 'dangerously' hot McDonald's McNugget

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A South Florida jury awarded $800,000 in damages to a family who claimed a little girl was left severely burned by a scalding hot chicken McNugget purchased at a McDonald's.

In August 2019, Philana Holmes ordered food from a McDonald's in Taramac, Florida. Holmes received the food at the restaurant's drive-thru and handed her daughter a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal.

Olivia Caraballo – who was 4 years old at the time – dropped one of the chicken nuggets onto her lap, and it got wedged between her car seat and leg for about two minutes.

The hot McNugget burned her thigh, leaving the girl "disfigured and scarred," according to the lawsuit.

The parents of the girl, Philana Holmes and Humberto Caraballo Estevez, sued McDonald’s and Florida franchisee Upchurch Foods, Inc. The family was seeking $15 million in damages.

The family said the girl still has a scar on her inner thigh from the "unreasonably and dangerously” hot McNugget. The parents said their daughter, who is autistic, suffered "emotional distress."

The lawyers for the family said the temperature of the McNugget was above 200 degrees, while the defense declared that the nugget was no more than 160 degrees. The defense contended that hot food is cooked to 160 degrees to avoid salmonella poisoning. The defense said hot food is not meant to be pressed against human flesh for two minutes.

The girl’s parents proclaimed that the fast food chain and franchise owner failed to warn customers about the dangers of hot food, failed to properly train employees, and cooked the food to a higher temperature than necessary.

In May, jurors found Upchurch Foods liable for negligence but not McDonald's, according to court documents. The jury decided McDonald's was liable for failing to produce instructions for the food that could have prevented the girl's injury.

Following the verdict in May, Upchurch Foods released a statement that read:

Our sympathies go out to this family for what occurred 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 it comes to cooking and serving our menu items, including Chicken McNuggets. We are deeply disappointed with [the May] verdict because the facts show that our restaurant in Tamarac, Florida did indeed follow those protocols when cooking and serving this Happy Meal. Our community here in South Florida should remain confident that we will continue serving safe and high-quality meals, just as we've done for more than 50 years at Upchurch Management restaurants.

Fischer Redavid PLLC, the law firm representing the family, said on its website:

Today, we celebrate a fair and just outcome as the jury awarded Olivia $400,000 for past damages and an additional $400,000 for future damages, totaling $800,000. This momentous decision brings meaningful closure to an arduous and protracted legal process. Having previously established the defendants, Upchurch Foods Inc and McDonald's USA LLC, as liable for their wrongful actions, this verdict reaffirms that they must now face the consequences and provide full justice. Despite years of denying any fault and, during this trial, attempting to undermine the extent of Olivia's suffering in the eyes of the community, their efforts have been superseded by the jury's determination.

The mother told reporters outside the courtroom on Wednesday, "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 comment after the verdict.

The case is reminiscent of the notable hot coffee lawsuit against McDonald's in the 1990s. In that case, a New Mexico jury awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages to Stella Liebeck after she suffered third-degree burns from spilling scalding McDonald’s coffee on her lap in 1992.

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