The Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to sue a merchant for a cup of hot coffee he spills on himself may have been a hilarious work of fiction. But it was a painful reality for Stella Liebeck when she won her lawsuit against McDonald's over a similar incident. Then there's a more recent mishap involving some steaming java and Niki Airlines.

Airline liable

The Austrian-based carrier, which went under in 2o17 after only 14 years in the business, was dealt an even sharper blow in December. That's when the European Court of Justice determined that the airline, founded by former Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda, was liable for a passenger getting scalded by hot coffee served during a flight.


Despite claims of turbulence or other seemingly uncontrollable factors that may have occurred during the flight and factored into an accidental burning, that liability still stands, according to the ruling.

Scalded during flight

The lawsuit was launched shortly after a young girl was scalded by her father's cup of coffee onboard a Niki-owned Airbus 320 in transit from Spain to Austria in 2015. It turns out the coffee tipped over from her father's tray, soaking his daughter and causing second-degree burns to her torso.

It wasn't determined how the incident occurred, as the court heard various reasons from a folding tray table design flaw to plane activity during the flight. But it also didn't seem to matter to the court, which concluded that scaldings and other similar injuries need not be connected to issues involving air transportation.

Damages not yet awarded

Lawyers on behalf of Niki argued that the lawsuit needed to be linked to plane performance in order to be legitimate enough to be considered a legal matter.

Court will reconvene later in 2020 to assess the damages that need to be awarded to the girl. But getting compensated won't be easy, given Niki's insolvent status the past two years.