Wawa beverages too hot, says lawsuit after girl is severely burned
NEPTUNE CITY — A major convenience store chain in New Jersey is in hot water over the temperature of its hot beverages.
The parents of a 3-year-old girl who was severely burned last month are suing Wawa in federal District Court of New Jersey, claiming negligence by a store clerk in Monmouth County, and recklessness by the company for serving beverages that are too hot.
The complaint says the girl was burned after the clerk accidentally knocked over a cup of hot water for tea while the girl’s mother, Roya Konzman, was at the check-out counter.
“The cup immediately burst, causing its top to come off and hot water to splash all over” the girl’s body, arms and torso.
The lawsuit says the girl suffered second and third-degree burns — the worst kind — on 15 percent of her body.
The family’s attorney, David A. Mazie, of the Roseland firm Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman, said the firm sent someone days later to test hot beverages at Wawa, and found that the water was 180 degrees.
“To put that in perspective, in your shower the water will not go hotter than 104 degrees,” Mazie said Tuesday in an interview with New Jersey 101.5.
Mazie said the water was so hot that the girl’s skin melted and fused to her shirt.
The girl is expected to wear a compression vest all summer, and doctors believe she may have to undergo surgery, he said.
The lawsuit conjures up the memory of the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit from 1992, in which a 79-year-old New Mexico woman eventually won a $640,000 judgment against the fast-food chain after she accidentally spilled a cup of 190-degree coffee on her lap.
Although that lawsuit is often derided as an example of frivolous litigation, the case has gotten renewed attention in recent years from people sympathetic to the plaintiff.
Mazie said his lawsuit is different because the child did not spill the beverage on herself.
A 2008 study by University of Texas at Austin researchers found that years after the McDonald’s lawsuit, hot beverages such as tea, hot chocolate, and coffee are often served at temperatures between 160 and 185 degrees, noting that people who were surveyed generally preferred their beverage to be about 140 degrees.
The coffee website HomeGrounds.co notes that coffee is usually brewed at 195 to 205 degrees. The serving temperature, according to the National Coffee Association of the USA, should be 180 to 185. Connoisseurs, however, say coffee should be served as low as 155 or 120, the HomeGrounds.co article says.
Even that low of a temperature can cause burns. Most adults can get the most-severe burn from 150-degee water after just 2 seconds, which is why the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that hot water heaters in homes go no hotter than 120 degrees.
At 180 degrees, "it’s like being napalmed,” Mazie said.
Mazie said there have been other lawsuits faulting Wawa for serving beverages that are too hot.
A spokesman for Wawa did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.