United Continental sued for in-flight coffee spill

In a suit reminiscent of the McDonald's case, a passenger says a hot beverage caused 'permanent scarring.'

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 17, 2013 3:17PM

Person holding a coffee cup on an airplane (© VEER Steven Puetzer/Solus/Getty Images)You probably remember the infamous McDonald's coffee case from the 1990s, in which a woman spilled a cup of overheated java from McDonald's (MCD) onto her lap, was severely burned, and ultimately was awarded several hundred thousand dollars in damages. But not the millions often described in urban legend.


Now United Continental Holdings (UAL), the company formed when Continental Airlines merged with United Airlines, is facing a similar lawsuit. This time, it's from a passenger who claims to have been injured during a coffee spill on a 2011 Continental Airlines flight from Madrid, Spain, to Newark, N.J.


The Los Angeles Times reports Texas resident Lourdes Cervantes is asking a U.S. District Court for a jury trial to seek damages against United Continental Holdings.


The newspaper quotes a court document saying a flight attendant was placing a cup of hot coffee on Cervantes' seat-back tray during the flight when the passenger in front of her reclined the seat, spilling the coffee on her lap.


According to the Times, Cervantes "said she suffered second-degree burns on the inner thighs, resulting in permanent scarring and disfiguration."


"She did suffer quite a bit of pain," her attorney Shaw Clifford told KTRH news radio. "What made it even worse is that Ms. Cervantes has multiple sclerosis, so when the coffee spilled on her, she couldn't get up. She just had to sit there and take it."


The lawsuit also cites the Montreal Convention of 1999, a legal framework that governs an air carrier's liability regarding damage caused to passengers, baggage or goods during international travel. Under certain conditions, it holds airline companies responsible for the deaths or injuries of passengers on those flights.


"This is a treaty the United States and several other countries entered into to regulate international flights," Clifford said, "so there would be one set of rules." And according to the attorney, those rules call only for proof of injury by accident.


"That is a lesser standard of proof than a negligent standard of proof," he added. "So all we have to prove is an accident, and as a result of that accident she suffered injuries and damages."


A spokeswoman for United Continental told the Times the company does not comment on pending litigation.


More on moneyNOW

578Comments
Jun 17, 2013 3:54PM
avatar
it was an accident, if there is a medical bill insurance should cover it.  Permanent scaring, disfiguration to inner thigh.  Unless your a super model it will not ruin your life.  sounds like a case of McDonalds airlines to me.  The lady and her lawyer probably figure to make a mine on this one.   The world is sue happy and the scumbag lawyers love it.
Jun 17, 2013 3:57PM
avatar
Stupid!! How was the flight attendant supposed to know the passenger in front of this person would move their seat back at that particular moment? I hope she doesn't get a nickle!!
Jun 17, 2013 3:55PM
avatar
And we wonder why we pay such high insurance premiums.
Jun 17, 2013 3:55PM
avatar
Uh, the person in the seat in front of her reclined at the wrong time.  How does this entitle the plaintiff to damages from the airline?  Hopefully this is thrown out.
Jun 17, 2013 3:55PM
avatar
R u fkg kidding me? Some passenger in front caused the coffee to spill and she's suing the airline?? Fk her. There was no culpabillty or negligence on the airline's part. Oh please, permanent disfigurement my ****. You get a water blister and that's that. She should sue the passenger.
Jun 17, 2013 3:57PM
avatar
Watch! No more coffee on airplanes now!
Jun 17, 2013 4:07PM
avatar
Accidents happen.  No one was negligent. Deal with it. Most of us have to at some point.  Can't keep blaming others.
Jun 17, 2013 3:56PM
avatar
Obviously this woman has great reactions...2 years later...give me a break...
Jun 17, 2013 4:02PM
avatar
I've been burned during a surgery by a heated medical device that caused a severe scar and I didn't sue anyone. It was an accident. I doubt that a cup of hot coffee did any sort of damage as alleged here. It's why we pay such high taxes, insurance premiums and ticket prices.
Jun 17, 2013 3:52PM
avatar
How about suing that oafish lout that was sitting in front of her and pushed his seat all the way back without any concern in the world?
avatar
Get a job lady, maybe you wouldn't have to steal from this airline.
Jun 17, 2013 4:07PM
avatar

Ms. Cervantes has MS...so I'd imagine she's many thousands of dollars in debt from her medical expenses.  Ulterior motive anyone???

 

Cha-ching!!!

Jun 17, 2013 4:01PM
avatar
..."Cervantes "said she suffered second-degree burns on the inner thighs, resulting in permanent scarring and disfiguration."  BS!
Jun 17, 2013 4:08PM
avatar
Another blood sucking attorney looking for a pay day. He hopes they settle out of court so he can go looking for his next 'victim.'  A pox on the attorney, the plaintiff and all other associated with the case.
Jun 17, 2013 4:00PM
avatar

Not again one of these lawsuits by losers. My suggestion: (and I'm no genius) Hold that hot cup of coffee so it won't spill.  There could be turbulence, etc.  And don't try to play the handicapped card.  We don't buy it.

Jun 17, 2013 4:12PM
avatar
Great! Now the airlines will modify the seats so they cannot recline, unless you pay a $15 reclining fee of course.
Jun 17, 2013 4:11PM
avatar
Well no one has any respect for the lady in the McDonalds case and I highly doubt anyone will have any respect for this lady after this case. But what sucks is that cases like this make the United States look really stupid and it also drives the prices of our travel tickets up as well. But I am sure the McDonalds lady and this lady could give a rats behind about all of that because they are laughing all the way to the bank.
Jun 17, 2013 4:04PM
avatar
Never understood why those little seat back trays don't have a ring style cup holder in them that you could set a cup into. It could be beveled to accept the angle of the cup.  and fit the cup about a third of the way up from the bottom. Enough that it's easy to remove, and the cup won't slide around in turbulance or passangers reclining their seats.
Jun 17, 2013 3:57PM
avatar
she should also sue the passenger who leaned back and caused the spill in the first place . though what ever she may win by the jury a lot will no doubt be spent on legal fees including if united appeals any verdict in her favor.
Jun 17, 2013 4:46PM
avatar
Way back in the early 70's on a flight I was being served a cup of hot coffee.  The stewardess (as they were called in those days) had just placed it on the tray when the little boy in the seat in front of me started bouncing around and the coffee dumped in my lap.  Burns, blisters, scars that took years to fade, a lot of pain and no way to get medical attention until we landed some hours later.  The crew gave me some of their own clothing from their luggage, ice packs constantly renewed and frequently checked on me. They asked if I wanted to leave the plane first or last and they helped me debark all the way to my car.  They would have gotten me an ambulance if I had wanted one.  They could not have been more concerned and accommodating.  When we landed and my husband took me to base hospital for treatment everyone there told me to sue the airlines.  I asked why, since it was not the airlines fault and they did the best they could to care for me.  It was a stupid accident that resulted from a little boy being a little boy.  I am continually discouraged by the inability of so many people to accept the unpredictability of life and understand that often, there is no villain, just circumstances. 
Report
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
Categories
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

DATA PROVIDERS

Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?

MARKET UPDATE

[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market finished the Wednesday session on a modestly lower note, but it is worth mentioning today's retreat took place after six consecutive gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.1%) and S&P 500 (-0.2%) settled not far below their flat lines, while the Nasdaq Composite (-0.8%) lagged throughout the session.

Equity indices started the day in the red, with the Nasdaq showing early weakness as large cap tech names and biotechnology weighed. The technology ... More

MSN MONEY'S