Jury rules restaurant isn’t liable for waitress spilling hot tea on guest

Photo: IKvyatkovskaya (iStock)

Spilling food or drinks on a guest is a server’s worst nightmare. I know this, because I once dumped olive oil from a dipping saucer onto a woman’s white pants when I waited tables in college. She was rightfully pissed off, and no amount of club soda and apologizing was going to make it better. Mercifully, the liquid I spilled on this woman wasn’t hot, as was the case in an incident that occurred at Delray Beach, Florida restaurant 50 Ocean.

In this case—a literal case, Tamberlane v. Ocean Properties—a waitress spilled hot tea on a patron named Alaine Tamberlane. Tamberlane sought damages of $15,000, claiming the spill caused “severe burns and permanent pigment discoloration.” Court filings from the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach, Florida, show Tamberlane alleged Ocean 50 created an unsafe environment by not instructing its servers to “act prudently” in the service of hot tea, and further alleged negligence on the restaurant’s part because the tea was served at an “unreasonably high temperature.”

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As Law.com reports, Tamberlane’s lawyers claimed the server who spilled the hot tea had not been properly trained by the restaurant, and had been instructed to carry the tea tray with one hand. Managers from the restaurant asserted the one-handed tray carry is standard in the industry and allows the server to more quickly react to movement and obstacles. The jury agreed, ruling in the restaurant’s favor and awarding no damages to the restaurant patron. There is precedent for customers to be compensated for burns when hot beverages scald them; in 2017, Starbucks paid $100,000 to a woman who’d been burned when a lid popped off her Venti drink, spilling hot coffee on her.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.