Jury awards Florida girl burned by McDonald’s Chicken McNugget $800,000 in damages

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A South Florida jury awarded $800,000 in damages to a little girl who suffered second-degree burns when a hot Chicken McNugget fell on her leg as her mother was pulling away from a McDonald’s driveway.

Lawyers for the family of Olivia Caraballo, who was four when she burned to death in 2019, are seeking $15 million in damages. The jury reached its verdict Wednesday after deliberating for less than two hours, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.

The jury’s verdict awarded $400,000 in damages for the past four years and an additional $400,000 for the future of McDonald’s USA and its franchise operator Upchurch Foods. A separate jury ruled in May that the company and franchise owner were liable for the injury that occurred outside a McDonald’s in Tamarac, near Fort Lauderdale.

“Actually, I’m just glad they listened to Olivia’s voice and the jury was able to reach a fair verdict,” Olivia’s mother, Philana Holmes, told reporters outside the courtroom. “I’m happy with that. I honestly didn’t have any expectations, so that’s more than fair to me.”

She testified Tuesday that Olivia, now 8, calls the scar on the inside of her thigh her “nugget” and is fixated on having it removed, the newspaper reported.

Lawyers for McDonald’s argued that the child’s discomfort stopped as the wound healed, which they say took about three weeks. They claimed that the girl’s mother was the one who had the scar problem and told the jury that $156,000 should be recovered for past and future damages.

“She still goes to McDonald’s, she still asks to go to McDonald’s, she still drives through the thoroughfare with her mother and gets chicken nuggets,” defense attorney Jennifer Miller said in her closing argument on Wednesday. “The injury doesn’t bother her. That’s all the mother.”

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Defense attorneys declined to speak after the verdict.

Holmes testified that she bought Happy Meals for her son and daughter, who were in the back seat and were just driving away when the nugget fell on the child’s leg. She said the girl screamed in pain, and when she pulled into a parking lot, she realized the splinter was trapped between Oliva’s thigh and the seat belt.

The mother testified that McDonald’s never warned her that the food might be unusually hot. The company said it adheres to food safety regulations, which dictate McNuggets must be hot enough to avoid salmonella poisoning and what happens to the food once it exits the drive-thru window is beyond its control.

While both sides agreed during the May trial that the nugget caused the burns, lawyers for the family argued the temperature was over 200 degrees (93 degrees Celsius), while the defense said it was no more than 160 degrees (71 degrees Celsius).

Photographs taken by the mother of the burn and audio recordings of the child’s screams were played in court.

The case may be reminiscent of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit of the 1990s, which became something of an urban legend about seemingly frivolous lawsuits despite a jury and judge finding all but the opposite.

A New Mexico jury awarded 81-year-old Stella Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages after she was scalded by hot McDonald’s coffee running on her lap in 1992, burning her legs, groin and buttocks while trying to steady the cup with her legs while prying off the lid to add cream outside a thoroughfare.

She suffered third-degree burns and spent more than a week in the hospital.

She had initially asked McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover hospital costs, but the company went to court. A judge later reduced the $2.7 million award to $480,000, which he said was appropriate to McDonald’s “willful, wanton, reckless” and “callous” conduct.