A Northern California family went on vacation to an upscale family resort near Yosemite. Entering the restaurant on a busy night, the parents ordered drinks, including hot chocolates for the two young children, a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl.
The waiter brought the drinks and placed the hot chocolates in front of the kids with no warning about the temperature of the drinks.
Before the children could be stopped, they started to drink. The boy yelped in pain as soon as the beverage touched his lips and put the drink down. The little girl also took a sip – but instead of placing the cup back on the table, the three year old was so startled by the temperature that she dropped the cup, spilling its contents down the front of her dress. In immediate pain, she stood up and began to scream and cry. Thoroughly alarmed, the mother immediately realized that her daughter had suffered a very bad burn.
After an initial visit to urgent care, the girl was treated by a top burn specialist in San Francisco. The doctor diagnosed full thickness third-degree burns over 12% of the girl’s body surface. Because the hot chocolate had mixed with whip cream, she had suffered from grease burns, which are deeper because of their persistence on the skin.
Over the next months, the daughter and her family endured a series of surgeries, treatments, and recoveries. During this time, she was often in pain. She was placed on heavy medication to control her pain as well as strong antibiotics. The trauma for this small girl, as well as her parents, was significant.
Heinrich Law filed suit against the resort, claiming the hot chocolate it served was a defective product due to the negligence of the management of the resort and its server. The beverage was made with scalding hot water, served with no lid, and placed on the table directly in front of a three-year-old with no warning: all substantial factors in causing Plaintiffs’ harm.
Throughout the litigation, the Defendants argued the incident was the sole fault of the parents for a) ordering the hot chocolate; b) knowing it was “hot” when served; and c) allowing their daughter to drink the beverage before ensuring the drink was cool enough to consume.
Notably, following this incident, the resort owned by the Defendants thankfully revised its procedures for preparing hot chocolate for children. In a common sense move that reflects the industry standard, they now require the beverage be mixed with cool water rather than served scalding hot.
From a legal perspective, there were several significant challenges and developments that impacted this case:
Heinrich Law deliberately filed the suit in Marin County, corporate headquarters of the company which owned the resort. The owners of the business filed a motion to change the venue to Tuolumne Country, where the resort is located. They wanted the case to be heard where people know about their lodge, and perhaps to tap into a group of jurors who might be more pro-business and less sympathetic to a personal injury lawsuit. They argued that incorporating in Marin was a mistake and they never intended to do business there. The judge denied the defendants’ motion, a huge victory for our clients.
Management of the resort and its server provided two written statements followed by verbal statements in deposition that were riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
In attempt to bully and intimidate our clients, the Defendants didn’t just argue comparative fault but went so far as to file a cross complaint, claiming our clients, the parents of the severely burned girl, caused, or contributed to, this horrific accident. Being sued and accused of causing their daughter’s devastating injuries caused even more trauma to this blameless family.
As we prepared for trial, the weakness of the defendants’ position became clear. We knew that this family would make sympathetic witnesses in front of a Marin Country jury. The repeated inconsistencies and false statements made by the defendants would be exposed. Defendant’s refusal to accept responsibility for their lack of sufficient training and lack of proper protocol preparing their product would surely be clear to a jury. And perhaps most egregiously, we believed the defendants’ countersuit accusing the parents of causing their child’s injury would bias a jury against the defendants.
As the trial date loomed, the defendants began to negotiate. Ultimately, we settled this case for $3.75 Million on behalf of our deserving clients.
If you have been seriously injured and you believe that another individual or business is at fault, please call us. We will do our absolute best to help you or refer you to someone who can. The consultation is free to you.