How A Coffee Spill Led To A Lawsuit Againt Dunkin'

A 39-year old New Jersey man has filed a lawsuit against the proprietors of a Dunkin' location in Totowa, New Jersey. He allegedly sustained severe injuries after the hot coffee he purchased from the restaurant on August 25, 2021, spilled in his lap, reported. According to the April 4 filing in Superior Court of Passaic County, Evan Arlington "suffered second and third-degree burns" that have rendered him permanently injured and unable to work. It appears that he is seeking direct damages to compensate him for his related medical bills, as well as consequential/punitive damages to compensate for his pain and suffering and the loss of his earning capacity.

The dollar amount Arlington is seeking has not been made public at this time, and Dunkin' has not yet responded to's requests for comment. However, given the high cost of litigation, particularly when we're talking about a case brought by an individual against a corporate entity, one might suspect that Arlington sees the potential for a significant damages reward if he successfully makes it case. If so, he wouldn't be wrong. There's a robust body of case law that has developed over the last 30 years on the issue of who should be held responsible when someone suffers burns from hot beverages served to them outside the home.

Hot coffee spill suits are not necessarily frivolous

In 1994's seminal "hot beverage spill" case, 79-year old Stella Liebeck sued McDonald's for life-threatening third-degree burns she suffered after spilling hot coffee purchased at one of its restaurants, per Vox. McDonald's attempted to paint the lawsuit as frivolous and Liebeck as a money-grabbing opportunist. But as the facts unfolded at trial, jury members came around to Liebeck's side, with one commenting in the aftermath that McDonald's showed "callous disregard for the safety of the people," per Consumer Attorneys of California

The trial court awarded Liebeck $2.9 million in punitive damages in the hopes of sending McDonald's "a message," per Vox. Although McDonald's moved to appeal, in the interest of avoiding further costs, Liebeck settled for some dollar amount under $600,000. Of course, $600,000 is nothing to sneeze at, and the judgment, which still stands because it was never appealed, sets a rather enticing precedent for plaintiffs such as Evan Arlington. But how Arlington's case may pan out is anyone's guess, and based on Thrillist's review of the top 10 biggest hot beverage spill cases in history, it could go either way. 

Fortunately, Arlington may have an opportunity to better assess the odds of his case in the coming months. Another Dunkin' customer, Angela Barbosa, filed suit in October 2021 against a Massachusetts Dunkin' restaurant for injuries, including third-degree burns, that Barbosa allegedly sustained in June 2020 – when her Dunkin' takeout cup spilled scalding hot coffee on her legs.