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September 22, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Port Chester woman sues Latam Airlines for $1M over hot water spill

A Port Chester woman has sued Latam Airlines Group for $1 million claiming that she and her infant were injured when attendants spilled scalding water on them.

Susan Hidalgo said the Chilean airline was negligent, in a lawsuit filed Nov. 19 in federal court, White Plains.

“Latam Airlines has not been served on this matter,” a company spokesman responded, “and is therefore unable to comment on any specifics. Nevertheless, safety and the well-being of our passengers and crew is our utmost priority and the foundation of our service protocols.”

Her complaint and a similar lawsuit filed nine days later in federal court in Manhattan are reminiscent of the controversial McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit.

The McDonald’s case, in 1994, spurred debate about product liability tort reform.

A jury in Albuquerque, New Mexico awarded Stella Liebeck $2.86 million for injuries she suffered from a 49-cent cup of coffee that spilled on her as she sat as a passenger in her grandson’s parked car. The cup bore a warning that it was hot.

Tort reform advocates cited the lawsuit as an example of frivolous litigation and greedy litigants. Late night TV comedians and talk show pundits ridiculed the verdict.

Pro litigation advocates argued that the verdict was appropriate. Liebeck, who was 79 when the accident happened, suffered third-degree burns and endured skin grafts and two years of medical treatment. She died in 2004 at age 91.

McDonald’s, according to news accounts of the lawsuit, had required its restaurants to serve coffee at a scalding 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Documents produced for the lawsuit showed that the company had received more than 700 reports of people burned by coffee from 1982 to 1992. Mcdonald’s had settled some claims for more than $500,000.

Liebeck had initially tried to settle for $20,000 for expenses. McDonald’s offered $800.

The jury found that McDonald’s was 80 percent responsible for the accident and Liebeck was 20 percent at fault. It awarded her $160,000 for medical bills and other expenses and $2.7 million in punitive damages, based on two days worth of coffee revenues at the fast food chain.

The judge reduced the award to $640,000. Liebeck and McDonald’s eventually settled for an undisclosed amount less than $600,000.

Hidalgo’s four-page complaint is sparse on details. On July 15, she and her child, identified only as A.M., were traveling on a Latam flight from New York to Lima, Peru. Flight attendants, she claims, served “an excessively hot cup of water” and caused the water to spill on them.

They were grievously injured, the complaint states, and “will continue to suffer great physical pain in the future.”

Hidalgo and her child are represented by Arnold I. Bernstein of White Plains.

The second lawsuit was filed by Yolanda Arias De Manzo, an Ecuadoran citizen, for an alleged incident on Sept. 12, on a Latam flight from New York to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

She claims that a flight attendant offered hot tea, placed the cup in her hands instead of on the seat tray, and told her, “be careful, this is hot.” Arias De Manzo immediately spilled the tea on her upper body, suffering second- and third-degree burns.

She alleges that Latam created an unreasonable risk of injury by providing boiling water for tea in a moving aircraft, not using a hot cup sleeve and not securing the lid on the cup.

She also claims that the airline failed to provide immediate first aid, ask if any doctors were aboard the plane, quickly notify paramedics of an emergency, request an ambulance for immediate assistance upon landing or allow her to disembark first.

She is asking for $175,000 for medical expenses, lost income, property damage and legal fees. She is represented by Michelle Viana of Manhattan.