U.S. Courts Would Have Given Same Victory For Chilean Victims of Exploding Churros

There are so many terrible tasting foods in the world and seemingly, at least to me, such a limited number of delicious objects worthy of my palate.  Why then must one of the tastiest of foodstuffs be so dangerous?

Seriously, you never hear about a bunch of kale or jicama exploding in people’s faces.  In any case, if you haven’t heard already or at least clicked the link above, a Chilean newspaper has been in some hot water, or rather oil (ba-dum-bump), as of late due to a churros recipe it published in one of its editions.

Back in 2004, La Tercera, the paper in question, printed a churros recipe that when followed correctly would result in the churros exploding from the hot oil it was placed in. Apparently the oil temperature listed in it was too hot and resulted in 13 readers suffering severe oil burns.  The readers in turn sued La Tercera and early this week, Chile’s Supreme Court ruled in the readers’ favor, upholding the two previous lower court rulings on the matter and ordering the paper to pay $163,000 in damages.  The court found that La Tercera printed the recipe without properly testing it first and that following it would unavoidably result in exploding churros.

Now I’ve scoured the internet looking for the recipe, but to no avail.  Not surprisingly, no one seems to want to host it.  Too bad, as my curiosity has got the better of me.

This is quite a tragic story as being covered in scalding hot oil cannot be a pleasant experience.  What’s odd is that a lot of people I’ve spoke to about the case seem to think that had it happened in America they believe the newspaper would have won.  Crazier still is that many of the comments online seem less than sympathetic to the victims.  I know the internet is not without its trolls, but seriously, that’s pretty cruel to attribute the fault to so many victims with nearly uniform harm.

So, let’s try to put the dispute to rest here and now.  I’m certainly not a judge, but it does seem clear to me, and I think to most people who study the law, that there certainly is a case for negligence here.  No need to get fancy with transferred liability.  Looking at the facts it seems quite unnecessary to go beyond this most basic of tort principals.

First, a quick recap on negligence as defined in modern civil courts today.  When one sues another for negligence they are essentially accusing the other party of failing to do or not do something that would have otherwise adverted the harm from occurring.  In legal terms, this tort is made up of duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate cause, and damages.

Duty is simple; it basically means that the liable party was in a position where they could foresee that their actions could result in damage to the victim.  Breach of duty is exactly as it sounds, meaning one fails to do their duty.  Cause in fact means the victim’s injury wouldn’t have occurred if the defendant’s breach of duty didn’t occur.  Proximate cause essentially means that the defendant could reasonably foresee that the damage would’ve occurred as a result of their failed duty.  And finally damages means the victim must actually suffer some sort of harm, physical or otherwise.

As a side note, for those looking to go to law school, familiarize yourself with the practice of writing out rules like this, because you’re going to do a lot of that on the exams.

Traumatic law school experience aside, it’s pretty clear that breach of duty, cause in fact, and damages, and even to some extent proximate cause are lesser issues here.  If it can be established that La Tercera had a duty to protect its readers from this sort of harm, the rest will just kind of fall into place.  Readers who made the recipe obviously wouldn’t have done so if they didn’t see the recipe before, and they suffered physical oil burns as a result of the explosions.

The main question is if a reasonable person could foresee that this recipe would have resulted in churros exploding out of hot oil.  Now based on the facts established by the Chilean courts, the answer is yes.  This is because the recipe put an oil temperature that was too high, and a reasonable newspaper, if they had tested the recipe beforehand, would have known that throwing in globs of churro batter would have always resulted in the type of oil splatter that occurred.  Certainly there is always the possibility of human error, especially when it comes to cooking.  But here, even if an expert chef made the churros, the resulting splash of oil would have still happened simply because the recipe was wrong.

And that, friends, is why the case would’ve ended the same even in our country.

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