A damages claim against McDonald's by customers who suffered burns from its hot tea may be thrown out if lawyers can have an earlier case accepted as a precedent.

In echoes of a legendary court case in the US, 20 litigants, including children, are suing the burger chain for scalds from drinks that were allegedly served too hot.

Some of the litigants are backed by the Legal Aid Commission, which is concerned at the alleged frequency and severity of accidents involving hot beverages.

But Stephen Cornfield, a liability specialist at solicitors Davies Lavery, said he successfully defended a similar claim against a burger restaurant franchisee last October.

He is attempting to have the case, Wyness v Gowrings Food Services, which was heard at Oxford county court, drawn to the attention of the High Court.

The case involved a middle-aged woman who had to have skin grafts after she spilled tea bought from Burger King in her lap. She alleged the tea was dangerously hot and the cup defective and unsafe.

The allegations were denied by the defendant and were thrown out by the judge after Davies Lavery proved the tea's temperature was monitored daily and the cups had undergone thorough checks. Costs of £11,000 were awarded against the woman.

It followed a case in the US in 1994, when a 81-year-old woman was awarded £1.5m damages for burns caused by a spilled cup of hot coffee. This was reduced to £330,000 on appeal.

Cornfield warned that if judgment is found against McDonald's in the High Court, it could increase the liability of all restaurants and lead to higher insurance premiums. He said: “It will not only affect fast food chains but also five-star restaurants – the implications are huge.”

He added: “Tea and other drinks made with boiling water are supposed to be hot. Are restaurants supposed to only serve lukewarm tea?”