Jurors find McDonald’s, franchisee liable for Broward girl’s Chicken McNugget burn

Second jury to determine how much companies will pay

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Jurors found some fault Thursday with both McDonald’s and its local franchisee after two parents sued the chain, claiming a chicken nugget burn left their 4-year-old daughter “disfigured and scarred” in Broward County.

The decision came following a short trial in county court. The jury decided McDonald’s and its franchisee, Upchurch Foods Inc., were liable for failure to warn about the “foreseeable risks of harm.”

The jury also found Upchurch Foods, but not McDonald’s, was negligent and decided that both companies were not liable for additional allegations.

The lawsuit stems from a trip to the drive-thru on Aug. 21, 2019. Philana Holmes said she went to the McDonald’s at 7600 NW 57 St. in Tamarac and ordered a six-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal for her daughter. She said the girl was in the car when she dropped a nugget on 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 stated.

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

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

The family’s attorneys proclaimed victory in a statement released Thursday evening.

“Today, a jury of reasonable and measured members of our community rendered a verdict that reflected the truth, the facts, and the law,” a statement from the Fischer Redavid law firm reads. “We don’t view this as a ‘split verdict.’ Two defendants went to trial, denying liability. A jury found both liable.”

The firm said jurors “selected the theories of liability that the facts and law fit best in their minds.”

“This is full justice for Olivia,” the firm said about the little girl.

A new jury will now be empaneled for a second trial to determine damages. Attorneys for the family expect that to take place sometime this summer.

McDonalds responded to the verdict in a statement Thursday:

“We take every complaint seriously and certainly those that involve the safety of our food and the experiences of our customers. Together with our franchisees, for nearly 70 years, we have consistently served customers safe, high-quality food using strict policies and procedures.

This was an unfortunate incident, but we respectfully disagree with the verdict. Our customers should continue to rely on McDonald’s to follow policies and procedures for serving Chicken McNuggets safely.”

McDonald's USA statement

Upchurch Foods later issued a statement of its own:

“Our sympathies go out to this family for what occurred in this unfortunate incident, as we hold customer safety as one of our highest priorities. That’s why our restaurant follows strict rules in accordance with food safety best practices when it comes to cooking and serving our menu items, including Chicken McNuggets. We are deeply disappointed with today’s verdict because the facts show that our restaurant in Tamarac, Florida did indeed follow those protocols when cooking and serving this Happy Meal. Our community here in South Florida should remain confident that we will continue serving safe and high-quality meals, just as we’ve done for more than 50 years at Upchurch Management restaurants.”

Brent Upchurch, local McDonald's owner/operator

Family attorneys said Holmes and her husband, Humberto Caraballo Estevez, have had to “deal with some negative public sentiment based largely on a lack of understanding of the true facts of this particular case.”

“This is not the infamous Hot Coffee case; this is Olivia’s case,” the firm’s statement reads. “She’s an adorable, innocent child who was severely burned through no fault of her own.”

The firm added: “There was no dispute that a Chicken McNugget from a Happy Meal caused Olivia’s second-degree burns. There was also no genuine dispute that McDonald’s knowingly cooks and serves McNuggets in Happy Meals intended for children to touch at a temperature that could burn them. And yet, they claimed no warning (verbal or written) was necessary. The jury correctly decided otherwise.”

View the verdict form:

About the Authors:

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

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.