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Woman Takes Wendy’s To Court Over Hot Chili and Loses

April 13, 1995

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ A woman who was seriously burned when some Wendy’s chili spilled in her lap failed to convince a jury that the restaurant should pay damages.

The jury decided Wednesday that the restaurant wasn’t negligent by serving its chili at a temperature high enough to burn someone.

Alecia Wallace sought $200,000 in damages for the second- and third-degree burns she suffered July 11, 1992, after buying chili at a drive-through window at a Wendy’s in Hattiesburg.

She said she opened the cup a couple of minutes after buying the chili, and ``the next thing I knew, it was in my lap.″ Painful treatment included removing dead skin on her thighs twice a day for two months, Wallace said.

The Wallaces wouldn’t comment after the verdict. Their lawyer, Karla Pierce, said they were disappointed.

``There were a lot of tough issues about eating and driving,″ she said.

Brent Souther, a lawyer for the fast-food chain, said the verdict ``added some common sense back to the legal system.″

A mechanical engineer who testified for the Wallaces estimated the chili that caused the burns was about 177 degrees and said that temperature was unsafe.

Restaurant officials testified that company policy called for keeping chili between 165 degrees and 175 degrees. A state health department official said restaurants must heat foods such as hamburger to 165 degrees and keep them at 140 degrees before serving.

The suit was reminiscent of a highly publicized case last year in New Mexico. A jury in Albuquerque approved $2.8 million in damages to an 81-year-old woman seriously burned when she bought McDonald’s coffee at a drive-through window and spilled it in her lap. A judge later reduced the total to around $600,000, and the two sides ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed amount.

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