A New Jersey woman is suing Dunkin’ Donuts in Essex County Superior Court after a cup of hot cider spilled in her car and burned her legs. Does this case sound familiar? It should.
In 1994, an elderly woman sued a New Mexico McDonald’s and was awarded $2.86 million and another $2.7 million in punitive damages after she spilled hot coffee in her lap. The award was later reduced, but the McDonald’s coffee case became the poster child for tort reform.
In the Dunkin case, the attorneys for the plaintiff are arguing that, although the drink was clearly labeled as being hot, “the temperature exceeded reasonableness and posed a safety hazard.” A spokesperson for Dunkin confirmed that their cups are clearly labeled with a warning about the temperature of the beverages and are likely to argue that the plaintiff was negligent in her handling of the cup. The plaintiff spent several months in treatment for her burns, and she has severe scars and may require additional surgery to repair the damage.
While the specifics have not yet been publicized, the Dunkin’ suit appears to be an example of a frivolous claim against a business that did all it reasonably could to inform the consumer about risks associated with its products. If Dunkin’ can effectively assert this defense, the court should dismiss the case and award sanctions to the defendant. If the court does not dismiss the case outright, the defendant should make an offer of settlement under New Jersey Court Rule 4:68, New Jersey’s version of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 68. Rule 68, often overlooked by attorneys, automatically assesses litigation costs against the plaintiff unless she can recover 75% of the amount offered.
If your business is the subject of a frivolous lawsuit, you need a tough, smart litigator who knows how to use the rules, like Rule 68, to your advantage. Attorney James J. (“Jim”) Thomas II has more than 35 years of courtroom experience in the Atlanta area, and is a business litigation expert who can handle complex business litigation as well as analysis, evaluation, and resolution of existing and potential litigation. Give Jim a call at 404-869-5248 or visit www.litigationatlanta.com online.