A UK woman undergoing treatments for a serious burn injury she suffered when boiling hot gravy spilled onto her lap is suing KFC, claiming the unapologetic fried chicken chain is bound to injure others with its scalding hot food.
Beth Smale, 22, told The Sun that she and her boyfriend were running late for a family birthday party so they decided to have a quick lunch at a KFC in Milton Keynes, England.
“We ordered the meal – a bucket of chicken – and got a side of gravy. We were eating in, but they gave it to us as a takeaway and it was in takeaway containers,” Ms. Smale told The Sun.
“We went to sit down at the table and as I picked up the gravy, the pot was so hot, it was impossible to touch it. I quickly put it down on the table and it fell on to its side.
“The gravy – which was so hot it was bubbling – spilled on my leg.” Ms. Smale said she was wearing shorts at the time, so the gravy fell onto her exposed skin.
The hot gravy was on her skin for a few seconds as she brushed it off with napkins, but her skin blistered and broke within minutes. Her boyfriend took her to an urgent care clinic and she promptly received treatment for second-degree burns that stretched across her thigh.
“It was disgusting – they had to pop all the blisters and rip all the skin off. My skin was still burning underneath, so she had to rip two layers of skin off,” Ms. Smale told The Sun.
Ms. Smale and her boyfriend had to cancel a vacation in Dubai they were anticipating because of her burn injury, which could not be exposed to sunlight. She also had to endure weeks of agonizing pain and make regular trips to the doctor to have the dressings changed.
“The day I got burnt, the doctor told me the temperature of that food must have been way too hot to cause that injury, so she advised me to go back to KFC and fill out an Accident Report Form,” Ms. Smale told The Sun.
But KFC refused to accept blame for the injury and never apologized to Ms. Smale, prompting her to file an official complaint against the fast-food chain.
Ms. Smale told The Sun that finds the company’s lack of accountability “horrendous.” She says, “I just want to make sure they have a system in place to make sure it can’t happen again.”
Ms. Smale’s injury in many ways mirrors the “hot coffee” case of Stella Liebeck, the 79-year-old Albuquerque, New Mexico resident who was severely burned in 1992 by near-boiling hot coffee that spilled into her lap at a McDonald’s parking lot – an accident that nearly cost her life.
Corporate lawyers launched campaigns to portray the case as a frivolous lawsuit, which led to Ms. Liebeck being lampooned as a fool who sought to cash in on a little “jackpot justice.” Reality, however, offered a strikingly different story.
In the early 90s, McDonald’s required its franchises to serve coffee at 180-190 degrees, which is hot enough to cause third-degree burns in as little as two seconds. McDonald’s knew better than to serve coffee that hot, especially through the drive-up window to motorists, which is how Ms. Liebeck received hers. Seven hundred burn cases involving McDonald’s coffee were reported in the 10 years preceding Liebeck’s accident.
When her coffee spilled, Liebeck was wearing cotton sweatpants, which absorbed and held the scalding liquid against her skin. She was taken to the emergency room, where doctors found she had third-degree burns on her thighs, buttocks, and groin. She was hospitalized for more than a week while she underwent skin grafting – a process so painful that Liebeck lost nearly 20 pounds of her body weight. She also had to receive medical treatment for her wounds for years afterward.
Ms. Liebeck sued McDonald’s over the incident, arguing that their coffee was excessively hot and therefore defective. The jury awarded her $2.86 million, but the amount was later reduced to $480,000 on appeal.
Her case finally prompted McDonald’s to lower the temperature of their coffee, and claims of burn injuries from hot coffee ceased.