American Airlines is being sued by a passenger who says she was severly burned when a flight attendant spilled scalding coffee on her during a Charlotte, NC (CLT) to Baltimore (BWI) flight. According to TMZ, the passenger says she suffered “great pain, agony and mental anguish”. When researching other incidents for this post, I came across this interesting read – Were You Burned By Coffee or Tea on a Plane? The Airline Could Be in Hot Water
The answer will rely heavily on the nature of your flight. On a domestic flight, the burden will be on you to prove that the flight attendant was negligent in his or her service of the beverage. Was the cup dangerously full, or was the coffee poured into a cup meant for cold beverages? Perhaps the flight attendant did not verify that you had a grip on the cup before releasing it, or was distracted by something else. If your neighbor bumped you or the flight hit a patch of rough air, however, it would be very challenging to assign negligence to the airline.
On international flights, the Montreal Convention places a far higher standard on the airline to keep you safe during your flight. If you were burned in what could be considered an accident—an unusual or unexpected external event—such as your tray table breaking, the airline would likely be found responsible.