Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Bogle v McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd  E.W.H.C. 490, a manufacturer or seller is under no duty to warn customers of matters which should be obvious to them. Furthermore, risks which are inherent to the working of a product (such as coffee being served at high temperatures) are not ‘defects’ under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Facts of the Case
- Between 1986 and 1998, D sold hot coffee in lidded cups to adult customers, and this spilled onto a person making up the group of C.
- The majority of persons making up the group of C were children at the time of injury.
- In all except one of the cases, the lidded cup fell either from a tray or table, with some content falling on C.
- In one case, child member C, aged 15 months, tried to drink an unlidded cup of hot coffee left on a table.
- C spilled the contents onto himself and sustained scalding injuries to his face, neck, chest, shoulders and back.
- Was D negligent in serving coffee at a temperature capable of scalding?
- Was D under a duty of care to warn its customers about the risk of scalding, and if so, was D in breach of this?
- Were the cups used by D unsound and/or inadequately constructed to make D’s serving of coffee using them negligent?
Held by the Queen’s Bench Division
- Finding for D, that customers are aware that coffee can cause scalding, and customers would reject coffee sold at safer temperatures. Serving coffee at preferred temperatures was not negligent.
- Furthermore, there was no need for D to warn customers of the danger of scalding since it was so obvious.
- The design of the cups was adequate for serving coffee safely. D was not negligent in choosing and continuing to use them. The hot drinks served within them could not be considered ‘defective.’
Mr Justice Field
- Both tea and coffee need to be served at scalding temperatures to achieve their best flavour. People generally prefer to obtain their drinks at these temperatures and leave them to cool and would not accept drinks served at safer temperatures.
- The law of negligence and occupier’s liability should not deny the public a facility they clearly want despite the general awareness that scalding could happen. Although D owes a duty of care to customers to guard against injury, that duty does not prevent them from serving hot drinks at all.
- “C criticised the foam hot cup for its high thermal efficiency. He said that this meant a consumer had no sensory understanding of how hot the contents were, and the drink was not allowed to cool. However, I am quite satisfied that McDonald’s were entitled to assume that the consumer would know that the drink was hot and there are numerous commonplace ways of speeding up cooling such as stirring and blowing” .
- The steps D took regarding the cups to avoid injury were reasonably adequate. It was up to customers frequenting the restaurants to take care not to drop or knock over hot drinks. The risk that drinks would be dropped or violently knocked over and cause scalding injuries cannot be avoided if the coffee the public desired is commercially available.