December 10, 2023

A customer carrying an order at a McDonald’s restaurant.

Tim Boyle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A San Francisco McDonald’s is being sued after a woman in her 80s allegedly sustained “severe burns” from a scalding cup of coffee and was refused help by store employees.

According to court documents obtained by NBC News, the woman, Mable Childress, filed her lawsuit to the San Francisco Superior Court on Sept. 14. The legal action claims that the employees of a San Francisco location breached their “duty of care” after failing to secure a coffee cup lip that she purchased from a drive-thru.

Childress alleges that the incident caused her to suffer severe burns, scarring, emotional distress, as well as hospital and medical expenses.

Peter Ou, the owner and operator of the San Francisco franchise in question, responded to’s request for comment via email.

“My restaurants have strict food safety protocols in place, including training crew to ensure lids on hot beverages are secure,” his statement reads. “We take every customer complaint seriously — and when Ms. Childress reported her experience to us later that day, our employees and management team spoke to her within a few minutes and offered assistance. We’re reviewing this new legal claim in detail.” 

This is not the first time McDonald’s has been sued over coffee. According to NBC News, in 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck sustained third-degree burns when a hot coffee from a New Mexico-based McDonald’s spilled onto her lap.

According to Childress’ lawsuit, the incident occurred earlier this year on June 13 at 1100 Fillmore Street in San Francisco. The lawsuit claims that the coffee cup lid opened when Childress attempted to drink from the cup and that “scalding coffee poured out of the cup,” causing severe burns and scars to her groin.

Childress says in her lawsuit that she attempted to report the incident to three employees at the McDonald’s location, including managers. The lawsuit claims that all three “ignored” and “refused to help her” until she ultimately left to seek treatment for her injuries.

Childress’ attorney did not immediately respond to’s request for comment. In a statement to local outlet SFGate, her lawyer, Dylan Hackett, said the coffee cup had not been “properly” covered and the coffee itself was “scalding.”

“She’s an elderly lady, and she was waiting for over an hour to speak to a manager, and a manager never spoke to her,” Hackett told SFGate. “They didn’t give her the time of day. … Nobody helped her whatsoever. She had to get to the hospital herself.”

Childress’ court filing lists the action as an unlimited civil case that could exceed $25,000.

What is the most famous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit?

Liebeck was severely burned on her groin and legs and spent more than a week in the hospital. Liebeck initially requested $20,000 from McDonald’s for her hospital expenses. When McDonald’s refused, the case went to trial and a jury awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages.

The American Museum of Tort Law notes that the jury found that McDonald’s coffee was served nearly 40 degrees hotter than coffee served by other restaurants at the time.

Ultimately, a judge reduced Liebeck’s $2.7 million award to $480,000 and then the two parties later settled for a confidential amount. 

Did McDonald’s get sued over a hot chicken nugget?

In July, the Florida family of a 4-year-old girl was awarded $800,000 in a lawsuit after she allegedly sustained severe burns from a hot Chicken McNugget at a McDonald’s franchise.

The 4-year-old Olivia Caraballo’s parents — Philana Holmes and Humberto Caraballo Estevez —sued McDonald’s and the franchise owner, Upchurch Food. The family alleged that Olivia sustained second-degree burns to her leg after an “unreasonably and dangerously” nugget got stuck in her car seat.

McDonald’s and Upchurch denied being responsible for the burns.

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