Dunkin' Franchisee Will Pay $3M Over Spilled Coffee

Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee pays $3 million to settle lawsuit over coffee spill, causing severe burns; echoes infamous 1994 McDonald's coffee case resurgence, highlighting the need for improved safety measures in the industry.

Dunkin Donuts exterior

ByAnjelica Cappellino, J.D.

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Published on January 26, 2024

Dunkin Donuts exterior

A Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner has agreed to pay $3 million to a customer who suffered third-degree burns after the company’s coffee spilled on her. Golden Donuts, LLC, the Atlanta franchisee, entered into the agreement to settle allegations of active and gross negligence. Its parent company, Dunkin’ Donuts, was not named in the lawsuit.

Back in February 2021, plaintiff, Alpana Joshi, who was 70 years old at the time, had purchased a coffee from Golden Donuts through its drive-thru window. After she was passed the coffee cup, the lid came off and the hot coffee spilled onto her lap, causing second and third-degree burns to her thighs, groin, and abdomen. According to her attorney, she required extensive skin grafts and had to spend weeks in the burn unit of a hospital, costing her $200,000 in medical bills. Due to the severity of her burns, the plaintiff had to re-learn how to walk. Walking remains painful for her and she must treat her burns with creams frequently throughout the day. She also cannot go out in the sun.

Represented by Benjamin J. Welch of the law firm Morgan & Morgan, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Golden Donut, alleging that the spill occurred because the drive-thru employee failed to properly secure the lids on the plaintiff’s coffee cup. The complaint in Alpana Joshi v. Golden Donuts LLC, 22-C-02023-S1, filed in the State Court of Gwinnett County, Georgia, alleged that Golden Donuts was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees.

"We are glad that Golden Donut finally agreed to a settlement that will fairly compensate our client for her injuries and how they've negatively impacted her life," the Plaintiff’s attorney, Benjamin J. Welch, said in a statement. Neither Golden Donuts nor its parent company has released a statement on the matter.

The plaintiff’s settlement may sound familiar to some, as coffee burn lawsuits have become nearly infamous in the past few decades. Back in 1994, a jury awarded the plaintiff $2.9 million in damages after she was burned by coffee from McDonald's. Although the punitive damages were ultimately reduced by more than 80 percent by the judge, and the parties ended up reaching a settlement of around $480,000, the jury award remained controversial, with the public and legal world alike debating the merits of such a case.

Now, it looks like hot coffee cases are experiencing a resurgence, with other plaintiffs following suit. Currently, McDonald's is dealing with another coffee lawsuit, after a customer at a San Francisco location burnt herself from a cup of coffee that allegedly had an improperly attached lid.

According to the founder of Morgan & Morgan, John Morgan, “Restaurants still have failed to learn their lesson to prioritize customers’ safety. We hope this settlement sends a message to all restaurants and franchisees: this isn’t complicated; train your employees properly and prioritize customer safety.”

About the author

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

Anjelica Cappellino, Esq., a New York Law School alumna and psychology graduate from St. John’s University, is an accomplished attorney at Meringolo & Associates, P.C. She specializes in federal criminal defense and civil litigation, with significant experience in high-profile cases across New York’s Southern and Eastern Districts. Her notable work includes involvement in complex cases such as United States v. Joseph Merlino, related to racketeering, and U.S. v. Jimmy Cournoyer, concerning drug trafficking and criminal enterprise.

Ms. Cappellino has effectively represented clients in sentencing preparations, often achieving reduced sentences. She has also actively participated in federal civil litigation, showcasing her diverse legal skill set. Her co-authored article in the Albany Law Review on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines underscores her deep understanding of federal sentencing and its legal nuances. Cappellino's expertise in both trial and litigation marks her as a proficient attorney in federal criminal and civil law.