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The convenience of getting a takeaway hot drink is sometimes all too appealing; whether you are travelling to work or embarking on a journey it sometimes just seems easier to buy a hot drink on the move.

Unfortunately, some customers find themselves injured by the hot drinks they are served. But what duties lay with vendors, if a customer is injured by a hot drink?

The recent case of Pippa Harrison v Odeon Cinemas, explores these duties. The claimant visited her local cinema and purchased a hot tea from the snack counter which was provided to her in a takeaway cup.

As the claimant made her way to the cinema screen, she noticed the cup felt uncomfortably hot and steadied the cup in her left hand with her purse underneath the cup. Once in the screen, the claimant went to place the cup in the seat cup holder when suddenly the lid popped off, spilling the hot liquid across her hand and wrist. The claimant suffered from burns, which required hospital attention.

It was the Claimant’s position that the staff at the snack counter had not secured the lid on the hot drink before passing this to her. It was her view that this amounted to negligence and it was this that had caused her injury.

The defendant however did not accept this argument and cited the case of B (A Child) v McDonald’s Restaurants Limited (2002) EWHC 490. This case also dealt with the duties involved in serving hot drinks to customers, and the vendor was not held to be negligent in that instance.  The defendant in the Harrison case also noted that if could be found that there was a duty owed by the vendor that had been breached, the Claimant would also have contributed to her own accident as she had failed to check if the lid was secured properly.

It was accepted that the Defendant’s manager had trained the staff at the snack bar to place the lids on the cups properly and securely. However, she could not confirm that she had trained all the staff personally who were working on the snack bar at the time of the Claimant’s accident. There was therefore the possibility, that the staff member who served the hot drink hadn’t received the necessary training to ensure the lid on the cup was secured before serving it to the Claimant.

The Judge was not satisfied with the defendant’s argument and did not feel that the Claimant had contributed to her own accident in any way. It was held that the Claimant had acted cautiously in the way she carried her cup to the cinema screen. On inspection of the takeaway cup, it was found that the lid could be applied loosely so that it appeared to be fitted but that it actually could pop off very easily unless it was securely fitted. It was also noted that even with the lid fitted there was a tendency for the liquid to spill out of the lid. The sole purpose of the lid was to avoid spillage and it was the duty of the vendor to ensure that the cups weren’t so overfilled that water could spill out of the lid. There was also the duty to ensure that the lid was securely fixed down on the cup. The duty of care could not be discharged on the assumption that customers would be overly cautious in carrying a cup of hot liquid. The Claimant’s case was successful, and damages were awarded.

What does this mean for future cases?

This case clearly establishes that there are duties owed by a vendor when serving hot drinks to customers. So, what are these duties?

  • There is a duty owed by the vendor to ensure that lids are securely fastened to cups before being served to customers
  • There is also a duty to ensure that cups are not so overfilled with hot drinks that the liquid is able to escape and scald the consumer.

This case will set precedence for future accidents of this type.

If you have been involved in an accident involving a defective product, and think you may have a claim for compensation, you can contact our solicitors for advice on 0800 988 8082  or complete our online enquiry form.

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