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Family of girl scalded by Denny’s coffee wins $500,000 settlement

More than 20 years after a New Mexico woman garnered headlines after she sued McDonald’s over a scalding cup of coffee, a 5-year-old girl has won a six-figure settlement in Buffalo federal court for a similar incident at a Thruway rest stop.

The family of the young girl sued the owners of a Denny’s restaurant in Angola in 2012, took the case to trial and recently agreed to a court-approved settlement of at least $500,000.

The girl, who was only 14 months old at the time, suffered first- and second-degree burns over her neck, chest and abdomen.

Her parents, Jose Adames and Sally Irizarry of Puerto Rico, sued the restaurant’s owners after their daughter grabbed a hot cup of coffee and spilled it on herself in 2010. They claim the waitress was negligent in placing the coffee within the infant’s reach.

“Sometime after the family is seated, a cup of coffee is placed on the table, which the infant was able to grab and dump on herself," the family said in court papers.

The case went to trial last month, but midway through, an insurance carrier for G.B. Restaurants, the company that owned the now-closed Denny’s along the Thruway, offered to pay $500,000 to the family.

The final settlement, approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, remains confidential but it is believed to be near the $500,000 previously disclosed in court papers.

Lawsuits over hot cups of coffee became fodder for the ongoing national debate over personal injury lawsuits when 79-year-old Stella Liebeck successfully sued McDonald’s in 1992. Liebeck’s Styrofoam cup of coffee spilled on her lap outside one of the chain’s restaurants in New Mexico, causing third-degree burns.

When she filed suit against the chain, she became a lightning rod of sorts. But her lawyers will tell you that, in the end, the facts proved McDonald’s was negligent.

They said the chain had a policy of serving its coffee at 180 degrees, a temperature hot enough to cause serious burns. They also say the company received more than 700 complaints from customers in what amounted to a clear red flag.

In some ways, the Buffalo case mirrored the suit in New Mexico. There were claims about the coffee being kept at overly hot temperatures, and there was testimony during the trial from medical personnel who worked on the infant.

The family also provided evidence that their daughter will require lifetime medical care at a cost of more than $340,000.

“They continue to worry about her health and welfare now and into the future,” the family’s lawyer said of the girl’s parents.

John W. McCandless, the Erie, Pa., lawyer who represented the infant’s family, and Robert W. Gallagher, who represented the restaurant owners, said they could not comment because of the confidential nature of the settlement.