When Accident Benefits Covers a Hot Coffee Spill

by Kris Bonn

Hot coffee from McDonald’s is again the subject matter of a legal case.

I’m sure everyone has heard of the case in the United States where McDonald’s served scalding hot coffee to an elderly lady. The coffee spilled on the lady’s legs, causing severe third-degree burns. Unfortunately, that case made headlines for the wrong reasons and was wrongly ridiculed as being frivolous. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

McDonald’s purposely served coffee at a temperature that it knew would cause severe burns – it made the conscious decision not to lower the temperature to save money. I urge everyone to see the documentary “Hot Coffee”.

Now we have our own “hot coffee” case in Ontario. In 2014, Erin Dittmann ordered a coffee from McDonald’s drive thru. She pulled over and was transferring the coffee to her cup holder when the lid came loose spilling hot coffee over her legs. She suffered severe burns.

Ms. Dittmann applied to her automobile insurance company, Aviva, for accident benefits. You might be thinking, why would her automobile insurance benefits cover her for burns caused by hot coffee when her car was parked and not moving?

As the judge ruled, the use and operation of the automobile was integral to her suffering the injuries. She used her automobile to purchase the coffee from the drive thru, she was in her automobile when the coffee spilled and importantly, as the judge found, her seatbelt likely prevented her from taking evasive action to avoid the coffee hitting her legs.

Keep this case in mind whenever you are injured and an automobile is involved. You may have coverage for accident benefits under your auto insurance policy. Other cases where accident benefits have been paid for atypical situations include:

  • A person standing in the back of a pickup truck loading a piece of equipment is injured when the equipment is dropped on his arm
  • A woman who walks into a pole sticking out the back of a vehicle
  • A person who slips on ice while getting out of her parked car and is injured when she hits the ground

If you are injured and a vehicle was involved, even if there wasn’t an accident or collision, you should still apply for accident benefits. You may be covered.