‘Disfigured and scarred’: McDonald’s Chicken McNugget burns 4-year-old girl, Broward lawsuit claims

Chain, franchisee fight allegations in court Tuesday

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Two Broward parents are suing McDonald’s and its local franchisee, claiming the fast-food chain is serving one of its most popular menu items too hot, leading their young daughter to suffer a scarring burn.

Opening statements in the trial began Tuesday morning and testimony began later that afternoon.

According to the suit, on Aug. 21, 2019, Philana Holmes went to the McDonald’s drive-thru at 7600 NW 57th St. in Tamarac and ordered a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal for her then-4-year-old daughter.

Holmes testified in a pre-trial deposition the girl had dropped a nugget in her lap, which got lodged between her thigh and her vehicle’s seat belt.

“The Chicken McNuggets inside of that Happy Meal were unreasonably and dangerously hot...and caused (the victim)’s skin and flesh around her thighs to burn,” the lawsuit states.

The burns left the girl “disfigured and scarred,” the suit claims.

“Every once in a while she looks at (the scar) and refers to it as her chicken nugget,” the girl’s father, Humberto Caraballo Estevez, said in a pre-trial deposition.

The suit claims the companies served food that was “unfit for human handling — let alone consumption” due to the temperature.

The parents’ attorneys reiterated those claims Tuesday.

Jordan Redavid, who represents the burned child’s family, said “The reasonable, foreseeable, intended use is for a child to handle this box.” He added, “The law implies a promise from a corporation, in this case, a child, that when they use it as intended, they’ll be safe. It wasn’t.”

The girl’s parents are seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

“If it’s preventable, it’s warnable. You should warn someone about it. If you don’t do that, then you’re liable,” Redavid said.

Both McDonald’s and the franchisee, Upchurch Foods, are denying any fault.

“Ms. Holmes purchased 32 chicken McNuggets that day,” Scott Yount, an attorney representing McDonald’s, said. “The evidence will show (that for) 31 of them, there was no problem.”

McDonald’s and their franchisee argue food safety rules require McNuggets to be hot enough, otherwise, they’re unsafe to eat. The defense also argues what happens to a McNugget once it leaves the drive-thru window is beyond their control.

“In fact, Olivia dropped six on her lap, but she has one burn—and that’s the one location where the McNugget was trapped by the seatbelt for two minutes,” Yount said. “The Chicken McNuggets are not defective, they are not unreasonably dangerous, they are not dangerously hot. And there’s no negligence on the part of either Upchurch Foods or McDonald’s,” Yount said.

A McDonald’s spokesperson released a statement on the lawsuit Tuesday:

“We take every complaint seriously and certainly those that involve the safety of our food and the experiences of our guests.

This matter was looked into thoroughly. Ensuring a high standard for food safety and quality means following strict policies and procedures for each product we cook and serve. Those policies and procedures were followed in this case and we therefore respectfully disagree with the plaintiff’s claims.

Together with our franchisees, we have made food safety a top priority for nearly 70 years, ensuring that our customers can rely on McDonald’s for safe and quality food.”

McDonald's statement

Read the court filings:

About the Authors:

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.