California woman charged with fraud over McDonald's coffee spill injury claim

The restaurant sign at a McDonald's outlet in California. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The restaurant sign at a McDonald's outlet in California. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - A California woman has been charged with fraud for falsely saying she was badly scalded by McDonald's coffee and using photos copied off the Internet to make it appear she suffered second-degree burns on her hand, officials said.

Selena Edwards, 38, of Victorville, faces 21 felony counts of fraud for filing an injury claim in which she said she was handed a cup of coffee at a McDonald's drive-through with an improperly secured lid that allowed the hot liquid to spill on her hand, the California Department of Insurance said in a statement on Monday.

The case against Edwards comes 20 years after a well-known product liability lawsuit in which Stella Liebeck won a US$2.9 million civil judgment in New Mexico over burns she suffered at age 79 from hot coffee she bought at McDonald's.

That judgment, which was reduced to US$480,000, became the butt of jokes and for many people symbolised the problem of frivolous lawsuits, even though Liebeck suffered third-degree burns and her defenders say media commentators were wrong to make light of her suffering.

California insurance officials say Edwards, on the other hand, has fabricated her injury claim.

She submitted an injury claim with photos she took off a hospital website of a burned hand she said was her own, and submitted bogus documentation describing treatment she said she received at a hospital, according to the Department of Insurance.

"By copying legitimate burn photos from the Internet, Edwards attempted to make a profit from another person's pain and suffering, and for this she will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

Representatives from the Department of Insurance could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, and their statement did not say at which McDonald's the woman said she had been burned.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Edwards said she was burned during a Jan 28, 2013, visit to a McDonald's drive-through in Fontana and that she was seeking US$10,000 (S$12,500). She was charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, according to the paper.

Representatives for McDonald's and the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office did not return calls seeking comment. Edwards could not be reached for comment.

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