Boom goes the churro: Chilean court upholds damages for exploding sweets

Chile's Supreme Court upheld a verdict this week ordering a newspaper to pay $125,000 to those injured by following the paper's recipe for churros. Is this just another frivolous lawsuit?

Everyone knows the case of the American woman who spilled her McDonald’s coffee and sued for burns. After all, it is held up as the example of America’s litigious society gone wrong.

Now we have a similar case from Chile, with a newspaper sued for running a recipe that caused churros – fried dough that is a common snack in this part of the world – to explode.

Chile’s Supreme Court upheld a verdict this week that orders La Tercera newspaper to pay $125,000 to plaintiffs who were hurt when they attempted the churros recipe that the newspaper ran back in 2004.

Hospitals around the country began getting calls after the recipe was published, The boiling oil – heated to 482 degrees fahrenheit as the recipe required – burst out of the pans when the dough for the churros was added to the pan. The 13 victims in this case were burned on their arms, faces, and chests.

“Faithfully following the recipe published in the daily, it would be impossible to have avoided this damage,” the judge wrote.

Since everyone seems to have an opinion about the coffee case, I suspected they might about this one too. From my tiny, unofficial survey, the overwhelming sentiment: Would readers jump off a bridge if the newspaper instructed them to do so?

But, as is true with the coffee case, once you read the facts, a different story emerges. If I were inspired to make churros – a treat I have never attempted, being not the least bit adept at frying – I probably would follow the recipe to a T.

That easily could have resulted in “explosions so violent that the splatters reached the ceiling and bathed the person preparing it,” as investigating magistrate Ximena Diaz put it in 2008 after an investigation.

In the McDonald’s coffee case, a new documentary called Hot Coffee released this July details the events surrounding the spill on Stella Liebeck, who suffered burns and sued the fast food chain. While she was dismissed as another American attempting to take advantage of the legal system, it was not a simple scald burn. Injuries were extensive and McDonald’s had previously been told that their coffee was too hot, hot enough to injure.

Of course, the world is awash with frivolous lawsuits. There is the Israeli woman who sued a TV station for bad weather forecasting – she apparently did not dress appropriately for a rainy day and fell ill – and the American couple who sued an airline for injuries related to cramped legroom.  Websites tally lists of what they consider the most outrageous of them all.

But I don’t think this churros case, nor the coffee one, deserve a place among them.

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