Mother and Child Suffer Burns at Restaurant


boiling tea pot This case involves a thirty-year-old woman who went to a Chinese restaurant with her three-month-old daughter and a group of relatives. The group was led to a table with a Lazy Susan in the center of the table. The woman’s daughter was sitting on her lap. The waitress placed a teapot filled with boiling water on the edge of the Lazy Susan. The woman was not paying attention to the teapot even though condensation had begun to form on the outside of the teapot. When a member of the group spun the Lazy Susan around, the teapot spilled and hot water spilled on the child’s hand and thigh. The child suffered first-degree burns which later healed with no scarring. The scalding water burned the woman’s arm and face, causing her sweater to melt into the skin on her arm. When the woman removed her sweater later, several layers of her skin peeled off. The woman suffered third-degree burns and had to be hospitalized for several days. The woman had to undergo skin graft surgery for the burns, and was left with permanent scars on her arm; doctors even considered giving her a face transplant, but her recovery was luckily complete enough to not require such an intense procedure. The woman sued the restaurant for negligence in causing the burns.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Can a customer at a restaurant who suffers burns from scalding water in a teapot sue the restaurant for negligence?

Expert Witness Response

In cases like this one, the restaurant has a duty to customers to provide a safe dining environment and the breach of this duty may constitute negligence. In this case, the waitress knew that she had placed the scalding water on the Lazy Susan and had a duty to alert the woman that the water in the teapot was very hot. The waitress also had a duty to alert the woman that the teapot could tip over if the Lazy Susan was spun. In many restaurants, hot water is poured into teapots from a hot water dispenser with a precise electronic temperature gauge that allows the restaurant to control the temperature of the water from 65° to 205° F. If a restaurant worker pours hot water into a teapot from a dispenser where the temperature gauge reads 155° or above, the worker should know that the scalding water could cause a customer to suffer a burn injury. This creates a duty to warn customers when water is served at this temperature. In this case, the waitress who put the hot water on the Lazy Susan had a duty to make sure that the diners had a safe experience without being severely injured. Since the waitress served the water while it was scalding and should have known it could cause third-degree burns, she was negligent in not warning the woman that she could get burned if the Lazy Susan was moved.

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