Woman sues Southwest Airlines for $800,000 over hot tea

Passenger says she was severely burned on a flight last year

It’s been almost a decade since 79-year-old Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s, claiming its hot coffee scalded her legs, but the lawsuits (and satires) haven’t let up since then.

Most recently, a Southwest Airlines passenger sued the airline after she experienced an incident similar to Liebeck’s. On a Dec. 28, 2011, flight from Nashville to Houston, Angelica Keller ordered hot tea. Keller, who was sitting in the first row of the plane and had no tray available, said the flight attendant handed her a cup of “extremely hot water” placed on top of a separate cup containing the tea bag and condiments.

The suit says when Keller tried to “extricate the tea bag from its position of being wedged between the tilted paper 'hot cup' of extremely hot water and the shorter clear plastic soft drink cup, the extremely hot water spilled into her lap at her groin area." Keller said she experienced second-degree burns and spent the rest of the flight in the bathroom.

Keller’s suit goes on to say that the flight attendants “made absolutely no effort” to help her, and claims the airline is negligent for failing to provide a tray in the front row. The suit also says the airline and flight attendants didn’t warn her about the “potential danger involved in the delivery of hot tea during a flight” and served water that was too hot for use on an airplane. She says she experienced blisters and has permanent scars. She seeks $800,000 in damages.

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines told ABC News, “Our customers’ safety and comfort are our top priorities, and we safely serve millions of drinks onboard every year. The referenced event is unfortunate and we are currently reviewing it.”

These types of suits continue to pop up, and the debate about product liability cases marches on. While Liebeck’s suit and multimillion-dollar award against McDonald’s back in 1994 sparked a media frenzy and an outcry amongst some legal professionalism for greater tort reform efforts, the 2011 HBO documentary “Hot Coffee” defended Liebeck’s decision to sue as well as some of the other cases that have been labeled “frivolous” in the media. 

Contributing Author

Cathleen Flahardy

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