Family seeks $15 million for 4-year-old girl burned by McDonald’s chicken nugget

A Broward jury will soon determine how much money to award the family of a 4-year-old girl who received second-degree burns from a McDonald’s chicken nugget in 2019. The lawyers for the family are seeking $15 million.

That’s $5 million for the past and $10 million for the future.

“There is only one Olivia Caraballo,” Jordan Redavid, the attorney for the plaintiff, told the jury in his opening statement Tuesday, referring to the now 8-year-old girl. “There will only be one.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for McDonald’s argued that Olivia’s injury healed in three weeks. The scar left by the nugget is “approximately the size of a nickel,” defense attorney Jennifer Miller said in her opening statement, and causes no pain. A plastic surgeon estimated the cost of treating it to be a little below $5,000.

A separate jury had decided in May that McDonald’s and its franchise operator were to blame for the girl’s injuries after the scalding hot Chicken McNugget fell on her lap during a family trip to the Tamarac McDonald’s drive-through.

Her mother, Philana Holmes, had testified that she bought Happy Meals for her son and daughter, handing the food to them in the back seat before driving away. At no point, she said, did McDonald’s warn her that the food might be unusually hot.

When her daughter began screaming in pain, Holmes pulled into a parking lot, where she noticed the burn. Pictures she took of the burn, and sound clips of Olivia’s screams, were shown and played in court again Tuesday, as they were in the May trial.

Olivia Caraballo, now 8, is shown with her parents, Humberto Caraballo Estevez and Philana Holmes in the courtroom gallery at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. Philana Holmes and Olivia Caraballo's father, Humberto Caraballo Estevez, sued McDonald's after their then 4 year old daughter, Olivia Caraballo, got a second-degree burn from a hot chicken nugget. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Olivia Caraballo, 8, with her parents, Humberto Caraballo Estevez and Philana Holmes on Tuesday in the courtroom gallery at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Lawyers for McDonald’s had argued that the food had to be hot to prevent salmonella poisoning and the nuggets were meant to be eaten, not pressed between a seat belt and human flesh for more than two minutes. After two days of testimony, the jury decided that McDonald’s and its franchise operator, Upchurch Foods, must pay the family damages.

Now, a second jury will decide how much those damages should be, in a single number written on the verdict form.

They will hear testimony from doctors who treated Olivia, who now calls the scar her “nugget,” Redavid said, and is fixated on removing it.

Olivia is on the autism spectrum, which is why she will not testify, Redavid said. Though her parents are filing the case on her behalf, all of the money awarded is to go to Olivia herself.

Her parents took her to the emergency room immediately after the burn, as well as to a pediatrician, dermatologist and plastic surgeon in the days and months following.

She also saw a different plastic surgeon, Dr. Yoav Barnavon, who will testify for the defense. Earlier this month, Barnavon measured the scar and determined it to be approximately 2½ centimeters wide.

Tuesday’s trial is about “fairness,” defense attorney Miller said.

“We’re not here to avoid any responsibility,” she added. “We’re here to ensure she is reasonably and fairly compensated under the law.”

The family’s lawyers are arguing that the scar serves as a permanent reminder of the chicken McNugget that burned her. A couple hundred dollars a day is not too much to ask in return, Redavid said.

“The verdict we’re asking for is not $15 million for 15 minutes,” he told to the jury. “It’s 15 million for the rest of her life.”

Both of Olivia’s parents and Dr. Josh Carson, a burn doctor who examined her, will testify as witnesses for the plaintiff later Tuesday.

This is a developing story, so check back for updates. Click here to have breaking news alerts sent directly to your inbox.

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