Louisiana Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Negligence Claim for Injuries Caused By Hot Coffee at Drive-Thru Because She Failed to Show She Could Meet Burden of Proof at Trial

liability coffee duty care

A denied summary judgment motion in a personal injury lawsuit stemming from injuries sustained when a drive-thru cup of coffee spilled onto a woman’s abdomen and thighs was recently vacated, and judgment was granted in favor of the restaurant by the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.   The appellate court held that the plaintiff had not met her burden of showing that the restaurant breached its duty of care, and it granted judgment in favor of the restaurant. coffee

Elvia Legarreta alleged in her petition that she ordered a cup of coffee from a Wendy’s drive-thru, and due to the negligence of a Wendy’s employee, the lid of the cup had not been properly secured into the cup before it was given to her.  She claimed that she suffered injuries when the coffee spilled onto her body.

Wendy’s filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that it was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Wendy’s contended that Ms. Legarreta could not meet her burden of proving that Wendy’s had been negligent. Specifically, they stated that Ms. Legarreta could not show its employee had not properly placed the lid on the coffee cup before the incident.

Ms. Legarreta argued that her doctor’s report stated that Ms. Legarreta indicated she had noticed the top of the coffee cup was crooked and that this created a question of fact regarding whether the Wendy’s employee had firmly and securely placed the lid onto the cup before handing it to her.  But Wendy’s noted that in her deposition, Ms. Legarretta stated she had not told her doctor she noticed the top was crooked on the coffee.

The trial court denied summary judgment on the negligence claim, and Wendy’s filed a writ application to review that ruling.

On review, the court stated that a summary judgment motion shall be granted when the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  The party moving for summary judgment must show there is no genuine issue of material fact in order to be entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Once the moving party proves there is no factual support for one or more elements of the adverse party’s claim, the burden shifts to the adverse party to then produce support showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Since Wendy’s was the movant on the summary judgment motion, the court stated they had to prove the absence of factual support for one or more elements of Ms. Legarreta’s claim. Those facts that are considered material are those that potentially ensure or preclude recovery, or determine the outcome of the legal dispute.

The court stated that Ms. Legarreta’s cause of action for damages centered on the negligent handling of a coffee cup, a product, by a restaurant employee.  Under Louisiana law, liability for a standard negligence claim requires a duty/risk analysis. The court stated a plaintiff must prove all of the elements of a negligence claim, including that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and actual damages resulted.

Regarding the element of duty, the court stated the rule that storekeepers and restaurant operators must use reasonable care to protect patrons and guests from foreseeable harm.  This duty includes “proper” use of “to go” cups at drive-thru restaurants so that patrons are not exposed to unreasonable or unnecessary dangers. Here, Ms. Legarreta claimed that since the lid was not secure on the coffee cup, Wendy’s breached their duty of reasonable care to her.

After Wendy’s moved for summary judgment, stating that Ms. Legarretta did not have factual support for her claim that the employee failed to properly secure the lid, the burden shifted to Ms. Legarreta. She was required to produce facts showing she can meet her burden of proof at trial. The court stated that Ms. Legarreta’s testimony that she told her doctor she had noticed the “crooked” lip was not enough to meet her burden that a genuine issue of material fact remained.  She had not testified that she personally saw the lid was not secure, and in fact, she stated she did not notice whether the lid was secured to the cup.

The court also stated that Ms. Legarreta had stated she picked the cup up by its lid, rather than by the base of the cup.  The court stated the evidence Ms. Legarreta set forth did not show she could meet her burden at trial of showing that Wendy’s breached its duty by not properly securing the lid of the cup. Instead, the court stated that accidents happen and are not necessarily due to someone’s negligence.

In sum, the court stated that Wendy’s pointed to an absence of factual support for the negligence action, and Ms. Legarreta did not show that she could meet her burden at trial. The court vacated the judgment, granting summary judgment and remanding to the trial court to dismiss the claim of Ms. Legarreta.

The personal injury attorneys at Lavis Law advocate on behalf of Louisiana accident victims, pursuing compensation for their injuries.  If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an accident, contact our office for a free consultation. We can be reached by calling 866-558-9151 or using our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Injured Car Passenger Awarded Damages, But Louisiana Appellate Court Affirms Finding that Neck Injury Was Not Related to the Accident, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

Louisiana Court Reverses Judgment in Favor of Injured Individual Because Prescription Had Run on Negligence Claim, Louisiana Insurance & Injury Lawyer Blog

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