PHILADELPHIA – Reminiscent of a famous case involving McDonald’s restaurants, Wawa, a popular and prominent local convenience store chain, has found itself in legal hot water over a cup of hot coffee which supposedly scalded and injured its buyer.
James Hall of Philadelphia filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on March 15 versus Wawa Beverage Company and Wawa, Inc., both of Wawa, Penn., and RPC Letica Corporation of Rochester Hills, Mich.
The main thrust of the litigation is that the defendants allegedly knew the model cup manufactured by RPC Letica and used by Wawa, the Model 24 HDC Cup, was defective, but took no action to correct the cup’s design and make it safe for consumers.
The suit states on Feb. 25, 2017, Hall purchased coffee from a Wawa store and when holding the cup in his hand, the sides of the cup buckled, causing the cup's contents of scalding hot coffee to spill onto his lap, resulting in severe injuries.
Allegedly, Hall sustained serious, permanent, and painful injuries which include but are not limited to the following: “Severe burns on his groin, legs, and body including severe and permanent scarring, and disfigurement. These injuries have caused him severe emotional distress, mental anguish, anxiety, and have substantially impacted his self-esteem and confidence due to the disfigurement.”
Hall has accused the defendants of being directly and collectively negligent and liable for his serious injuries.
“Defendant [RPC Letica] has known, and knew at the time of manufacture of the ‘cup’, that the paper cup used for scalding hot coffee posed a serious and imminent danger to the safety of persons using the cup for coffee,” the suit says.
Hall claims RPC Letica was aware that the 24 HDC Model Cup was a type of cup that was likely to buckle and collapse when containing scalding hot liquid and when gripped, but nonetheless chose to market it as a safe cup for use by consumers.
“The cup is defective, because it lacks sufficient rigidity to prevent its collapse when being used in a foreseeable manner. The cup lacks sufficient rigidity because of the combination of its height, width, wall thickness, and the composition of its materials. This design causes the sides to buckle when normal pressure is applied to it. Defendant is thus strictly liable to plaintiff, pursuant to Pennsylvania Tort Law.”
From there, the suit alleges RPC Letica delivered the defective cups to Wawa, which then placed the defective HDC Model 24 Cup into the stream of public commerce and, according to the lawsuit, now became subject to strict liability for the cup’s defective design and manufacture.
The suit further maintains that Wawa had received previous complaints from customers of the HDC Model 24 Cups collapsing and burning them with hot coffee in the process, but continued to use the cup in its stores regardless. It also takes aim at the process by which Wawa brews and sells its coffee to customers.
“Defendant had a policy and system in place for brewing coffee at extremely high temperatures. The temperature of the brewed coffee at Wawa was unreasonably and excessively high when brewed. It is believed and therefore averred that Wawa brews its coffee at extremely high temperatures so that it could place the coffee into coffee urns for extended periods of time so that when customers pour a cup from the urns, the coffee would remain hot as though recently brewed even though it was not necessarily the case,” per the lawsuit.
For multiple counts of product liability and negligence against each individual defendant, the plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus punitive damages, costs and interest.
The plaintiff is represented by Mark C. Schultz of Schultz Law and Joanne Fishman of Jacobs & Fishman, both in Conshohocken.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180301765
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com