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UC Berkeley Grad Sues In-N-Out Over Hot Coffee Burns

The plaintiff's lawsuit, filed today in Alameda County, says she sustained first- and second-degree burns, spent three days in a hospital and has permanent scars from the 2013 incident in Oakland.

In-N-Out sign. File photo/Wikimedia.
In-N-Out sign. File photo/Wikimedia.
A University of California at Berkeley graduate sued a burger chain in Alameda County Superior Court today over injuries suffered when she was badly burned by a spilled cup of hot coffee last year and an employee allegedly refused to call for an ambulance.

The lawsuit filed by Hedy Chen against In-N-Out Burger Inc. is based on legal claims of negligence and failure to come to her aid. Chen, who graduated from UC last year, says in the lawsuit that the incident happened when she and a friend stopped an In-N-Out drive-through restaurant in Oakland on April 1, 2013.

The lawsuit says she ordered a cup of coffee and that an employee handed her the allegedly "excessively hot" beverage in a paper cup without a protective sleeve.

The cup was so hot that Chen could not hold it and she dropped it onto her abdomen and thighs, which caused her to suffer excruciating pain, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit alleges she asked the employee to call 911, but the worker refused, allegedly saying that she was forbidden to do so because it was against company policy to call 911.

Chen alleges the employee then gave her a bag of ice, which, according to the lawsuit, is a poor treatment for burns and can exacerbate scarring.

Chen sustained first- and second-degree burns, spent three days in a hospital and has permanent scars, according to the lawsuit.

"It's amazing that they would refuse to call 911, and then give her ice treatment which makes it worse," Chen's lawyer, Kirk Boyd, said in a statement. The lawsuit asks for financial compensation for the injuries in an amount to be determined by a jury.

Arnie Wensinger, an executive vice president for the Irvine-based In-N-Out Burgers declined to comment on the lawsuit, but noted that "all In-N-Out Burger Associates are authorized to assist our customers and to call 911 in emergency situations."

In-N-Out operates in California and the southwestern United States.

In a legendary case in Albuquerque in 1994, a jury awarded a woman $2.7 million for the injuries suffered when she was burned by hot coffee. The tale was even featured in a documentary, "Hot Coffee." 

--Bay City News

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