Yes, tea is hot, too: Zeynep Inanli v. Starbucks

by Ted Frank on May 4, 2010

By popular demand, we note the existence of the case of Zeynep Inanli v. Starbucks Corp et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 105767-2010, where Ms. Inanli has alleged second-degree burns from tea that was “unreasonably hot, in containers which were not safe.”

You will recall that part of the trial lawyer defense of the McDonald’s hot coffee case are the factually false claims that (1) only McDonald’s sold beverages hot enough to cause burns and (2) after Stella Liebeck won her suit, hot-beverage vendors everywhere reduced their temperatures to a “safe” level. Of course, the Reuters account fails to indicate sufficient facts to determine whether Ms. Inanli’s scenario reflects injuries from a spill that was her own fault or the fault of Starbucks.

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Starbucks Hot Tea Case: Merit or Not? – New York Personal Injury Law Blog
05.06.10 at 11:39 am

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1 Jim Collins 05.04.10 at 7:30 am

Up untill a few days ago I would have sided with Starbucks. I stop frequently at a drive through coffee kiosk that brews each order individually. As a result the coffee is extremely hot. I put the cup in my cup holder and by the time that I get to my desk at work, the coffee, has cooled to a drinkable temperature. This was fine until a few days ago. In a cost cutting measure, the kiosk has gone from using an insulated foam cup to a paper cup with a thin foam insulating sleeve. When I went to pick my cup up out of the cup holder, the bottom of the cup let go, soaking my right thigh in hot coffee. I now have a large burn about the same severity as a heavy sunburn on my thigh. This morning when I stopped at the kiosk, I told them about their new cups. The guy running the kiosk told me that I should spend $10.99 on an aluminum travel mug that they were selling and I wouldn’t have that problem any more. I’m not suing, but, I am also not stopping there any more. I know that coffee is supposed to be hot and if I would have gotten burned through any action on my part, it would have been my fault, but, I also believe that companies selling hot coffee have the obligation to put it in an appropriate container.

2 VMS 05.04.10 at 8:08 am

I was unable to find any record of the case on the New York County Clerk’s website (SCROLL) when searching by index number or party name: http://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/iscroll/index.jsp

It is my understanding, that as soon as a case is filed and the index number paid for, it is immediately registered on SCROLL, but the scanning of actual documents may lag behind.

3 JC 05.04.10 at 9:29 pm

Where I come from, we call that “felony stoopid”.
@ Jim (nice name, by teh way, I use the same one myself), I brew at home into a big thermos mug, and carry a spare in the event of massive traffic hangups. For the used bev, and they’re color coded to avoid confusion. Hopuston can be like that.

4 Jim Collins 05.04.10 at 10:39 pm

I said the hell with it and bought a coffee maker for my office today. My commute isn’t that long and I’d rather slep the extra ten minutes it takes to mak it at home.

5 Bill Poser 05.05.10 at 12:16 am

I have a hard time feeling sorry for people who are so chipper that they feel comfortable leaving home before having a cup of coffee. :)

6 Jim Collins 05.05.10 at 6:07 am

Chipper has nothing to do with it. It is more of a physiology thing.

7 Frank 05.05.10 at 1:15 pm

“I also believe that companies selling hot coffee have the obligation to put it in an appropriate container.”

In your circumstance, wouldn’t you think it was likely a defective or damaged cup? The vast majority of the take-out coffee I have purchased has come in paper/cardboard cups. Such cups have been used for take-out coffee for at least a half-century; I think such long time usage garners them classification as “appropriate containers”.

(Remember the little fold-out handles – like an angel’s wings.)

Just a side note, as a slob, I can attest that generally the bottom of a paper coffee cup will not “let go” until well after mold has formed on the surface of the coffee. See for further reference, my desk.

8 vic 05.06.10 at 12:23 pm

I read on another blog that this woman was hospitalized for 5 days…..that’s pretty serious

9 Jeff Hall 05.18.10 at 2:32 pm

I’m not a lawyer, and there’s something that perplexes about the law of this situation. Tea is a beverage made by pouring boiling water over fermented tea leaves. When a restaurant gives you steeping tea where the water is not at the boiling point, then they are not giving you what any reasonable person expects by the word “tea”.

Water always boils at the same temperature (assuming that the ambient air pressure is constant.) How can boiling water be “unreasonably hot”? If it were any hotter it would quickly become steam, if it were any colder it wouldn’t be boiling water any more.

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