Tim Hortons sued by wife over hot tea burns
Warning: This story contains graphic images that some readers may find disturbing.
An Ontario woman and her family have filed a civil lawsuit seeking $500,000 in damages from Tim Hortons after she allegedly suffered second-degree burns to her stomach, genitals and legs from an “overheated” tea.
“There were very serious consequences for what should have been a commonplace event,” Toronto attorney Gavin Tighe for Gardiner Roberts LLP told CTV News Toronto on Saturday.
Tighe is representing 73-year-old Jackie Lansing — who ordered a 14-ounce hot black tea through a Huntsville, Ontario drive-thru on May 18, 2022. Tim Hortons, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Lansing and reviewed by CTV News Toronto.
The documents allege that Lansing was served her tea at a “superheated, boiling hot” temperature in a “single cup” that “immediately collapsed.”
“As a result, approximately 14 ounces of boiling hot liquid spilled onto Ms. Lansing’s abdomen and legs,” her claim reads. “The tea provided was more of a hazard than a drink.”
The burial resulted in severe second-degree burns to much of her lower body, Tighe said. “To this day, severe scarring is a problem,” he added.
The cup of “scorching” tea served to Lansing. (Gardiner Roberts LLP)
In December, Lansing and her daughter filed a lawsuit against Tim Hortons, accusing the chain of negligence. In her lawsuit, Lansing alleges that the cup that was provided to her was defective, that the tea was heated to an improper temperature, and that the employees failed to exercise reasonable care in notifying them of the cup’s defects to warn.
Lansing’s daughter is seeking damages under Ontario’s Family Law Act, claiming she was unable to maintain the previous care for her disabled child while overseeing her mother’s recovery.
A defense filed on behalf of TDL Group Corp., the Tim Hortons licensing company, and Greenwood Enterprises Inc., the operator of the franchise, denies any alleged negligence and argues that all due diligence and service standards have been met. Instead, it blames Lansing and underscores a “risk taken” in ordering a hot drink.
“She was the cause of her own misfortune,” it says.
When asked for comment, a representative for Tim Hortons told CTV News Toronto that the company was unable to provide any further information while the matter was in court.
After the spill, Lansing sought medical help from Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, Tighe said.
“She had to go to the emergency room immediately and suffered severe burns to her upper body and legs,” he said.
The burns caused “significant damage” to her abdomen and legs, court documents claim, and resulted in “fluid-filled blisters on the skin, pus accumulation and skin shedding.”
Lansing’s burns can be seen above. (Tighe)
In the months following the incident, Tighe said Lansing was at “serious risk of infection” and required frequent medical attention and care.
Documents claim that Lansing is “permanently and severely injured, scarred and disfigured” and will continue to suffer from pain for the rest of her life.
Since the incident, her claim states, she has suffered from ongoing issues including hypersensitive skin that requires daily SPF, low tolerance to temperature, chemicals, sunlight and tight-fitting clothing, ongoing weight gain and a negative self-image.
“The injuries are residual and will leave severely disfiguring and visible scars,” the claim reads.
She also claims that her mental health has deteriorated and that she is frequently “anxious, anxious, gloomy, depressed and whiny.”
WHAT IS A NEGLIGENCE CLAIM?
David Taub, a partner at Robins Appleby LLP in Toronto, said that a successful negligence claim must have five elements.
“The four basic elements are due diligence, breach of duty, causation and indemnification,” Taub said in an interview with CTV News Toronto on Sunday.
First, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had some sort of legal duty of care – in this case, Tim Hortons should have been expected to provide Lansing with tea at the appropriate temperature and in a well-structured cup.
Plaintiffs are also expected to demonstrate a breach of this duty and that the breach caused harm.
“The cup that held the superheated liquid ‘collapsed on itself’ — I think that’s the language they’re using,” Taub said, referring to the alleged violation of Lansing’s claim. “So, [they’re alleging] Either the tea was so hot that the cup broke, or the cup itself was just completely broken.”
Serving thousands of hot beverages a day, Tim Hortons expect occasional spills, Taub said. In their case, Lansing must demonstrate that the temperature of the tea was such that it exceeded a burn that could be “reasonably” expected in such environments.
“The plaintiff has to show more severe burns than one would expect from the purchase of a hot beverage,” Taub said. “You would probably need medical evidence.”
The fourth element, damages, is that the plaintiff must prove that the damage done to him can be recovered in the form of damages, he said.
“Normally you would expect your cup to be enough to hold the contents in, and if it suddenly tips over on you, you’re going to suffer some sort of damage from the hot drink spilling on you,” Taub said.
According to her lawsuit, Lansing is seeking damages to cover the cost of ongoing medical treatment, psychotherapy, a nutritionist and future cosmetic treatments.
ACCUSED WHITE TABS BACK
An attorney representing TDL and Greenwood denied in a defense statement filed in late February that Tim Horton’s service of the tea posed a hazard or that the cup was defective in any way.
Instead, Lansing is blamed for the incident, calling her “the author of her own misfortune.”
The defense argues that Lansing was not paying attention at the time of the incident, was distracted by her cell phone and was moving hastily “despite her knowledge of the hot liquid.”
The defense argues that its parties “have complied with all due diligence requirements with respect to the sale and delivery of hot beverages.”
The defense is asking the court to dismiss Lansing’s lawsuit.
“NOT TERRIBLE FREQUENTLY”
Taub said he hasn’t seen many successful similar cases in his time in the field.
“It’s not that common at all,” he said, “but it does happen.”
The trial attorney said these cases often draw a significant amount of public attention.
In the now-famous 1994 lawsuit, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck claimed she suffered third-degree burns after spilling a McDonald’s coffee on her lap while parked outside the restaurant. The court case made international headlines.
Earlier this year, a British Columbia man filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s alleging he was injured by a “scalding hot” coffee while he was stopped at a drive-through window. A little over a decade earlier, a British Columbia woman sued the fast-food chain for burns caused by spilling a hot drink.