Woman Scalded by Hot Apple Cider Sues Dunkin' Donuts in N.J. Court

New Jersey Law Journal


Dunkin' Donuts' apple cider
Dunkin' Donuts' apple cider

In a case reminiscent of the 1994 McDonald’s hot coffee case that became a flash point for tort reform, a New Jersey woman is suing Dunkin’ Donuts over severe burns she claims to have suffered when the lid on her hot apple cider dislodged and the hot contents spilled on her.

Jennifer Fragoso claims the cider was heated “beyond industry standards to the point where patrons could not safely consume it because it was not reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose.”

She filed suit in Superior Court in Essex County against Dunkin’ Donuts and Anju Donuts, the owner-operator of the Belleville franchise where the accident allegedly took place.

The suit, Fragoso v. Dunkin’ Brands, Inc. d/b/a Dunkin Donuts, includes counts for negligence, product liability and breach of express and implied warranties.

The complaint does not focus on the adequacy of the beverage cup or lid, or of the printed warning, but rather on the temperature of the drink.

“We can’t avoid the obvious—obviously the drink was supposed to be hot and it was hot,” says plaintiff lawyer Amos Gern of Star, Gern, Davison & Rubin in Roseland. “The thrust of our claim was that the temperature exceeded reasonableness and posed a safety hazard.”

Fragoso, now 24, spilled the drink while sitting in her parked car outside the Dunkin’ Donuts on Sept. 24, 2012. She alleges she suffered second and third degree burns in the mishap.

She went through several months of treatment at The Burn Center at St. Barnabas in Livingston but  is left with unsightly permanent scarring of the upper thighs and may require surgery in the future.

If the drink was at a reasonable temperature, it would not have caused third degree burns, Gern says.

Fragoso’s case bears similarities to Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, in which a New Mexico jury awarded $2.86 million, including $2.7 million in punitive damages, to a woman who suffered third-degree burns in the pelvic region when she spilled hot coffee purchased at McDonald’s in her car.

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