Franchisor Found not Liable for Hot Coffee Altercation at 7-Eleven

January 2, 2007 ( - A Suffolk County, New York judge granted summary judgment to dismiss a claim against 7-Eleven brought by a customer who was splashed with hot coffee during an altercation between a franchise employee and customer.

The New York Law Journal reports state Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle explained in his opinion that the most important factor in determining whether a franchisor may be held liable for the acts of its franchisee is the degree of control the franchisor maintains over the daily operations of the franchisee. Testimony during the court proceedings proved 7-Eleven exercised no control over the activities that resulted in Eugene Nickola’s injury.

Nickola was standing next to another customer when a store employee began struggling with the customer for possession of a coffee pot. Nickola testified that the employee gained possession of the coffee pot and threw the coffee at the customer, but instead hit Nickola on his head, neck and shoulder, according to the New York Law Journal.

The loss prevention manager for 7-Eleven, testified that, although he was responsible for providing security training, the franchises were not mandated to follow his training recommendations. He further said the franchisor did not train the employee involved in the incident and had no records of any improper behavior involving him.

“[I]n the absence of a principal/agent relationship, or proof that the franchisor exercised a high degree of control over the franchisee, there is no basis for holding the franchisor responsible for the franchisee’s misconduct,” Doyle said, according to the New York Law Journal.

Doyle, however, permitted claims filed by Nickola against the owner of the 7-Eleven franchise and the employee involved in the altercation to proceed.