B (A Child) v McDonald’s Restaurants Limited
Citations:  EWHC 490 (QB).
The claimants were children between the ages of 4 and 16. Each had been injured by the coffee sold at McDonald’s. In most cases, the cup of coffee had fallen or a tray or table. This had caused the lid to fall off the cup and the hot contents had splashed onto the child. On child spilled the coffee on himself trying to drink it. The claimants sued McDonald’s for negligence and strict liability under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
- Did the defendant breach their duty of care to their customers by serving the drinks at such a high temperature?
- Was there negligence in the design or construction of the coffee cups or lids?
- Did the defendant’s duty of care require them to warn their customers that the drink was hot?
- Were the hot drinks ‘defective‘ for the purposes of the Consumer Protection Act 1987?
The Court held in favour of the defendant. They found that people are aware that coffee can cause scalding injuries. There was therefore no need to warn them (and in any case, there was a warning on the cup). Meanwhile, customers would not find the product acceptable if it were brewed at a temperature low enough to avoid injury. For this reason, there was no negligence in serving the drinks as hot as they were. There was no negligence in the design of the cups. The drinks were not defective.
This Case is Authority For…
A manufacturer or seller is not under a duty to warn customers of matters which should be obvious to them.
Risks which are an inherent part of how the product works (such as coffee being hot or a knife being sharp) are not ‘defects’ under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
A consumer can expect basic precautions to be taken against a product’s inherent risk. The product might be defective if these were not done. However, a consumer cannot expect precautions to be taken which will deny them the basic function of the product.