“Uninsured motorist law foils hot coffee suit”

by Walter Olson on June 5, 2010

A lawsuit over a hot coffee mishap in the fast-food drive-through lane turns out to be barred by California’s financial responsibility law, which “prohibits uninsured motorists … from collecting noneconomic damages in any action arising out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle.” [Pat Murphy, Lawyers USA "Benchmarks"]


1 Ted Frank 06.05.10 at 9:02 am

And add Jack in the Box to the list of fast-food vendors that serve coffee hot enough to cause second-degree burns, even through clothing.

2 Jay Markowitz 06.05.10 at 11:51 pm

In these cases, prolonged contact with skin is a necessary factor.

3 Frank C ostanza 06.06.10 at 9:46 am

Doesn’t anyone consider it wrong of her to grab a hot cup of coffee the REMOVABLE cover, which then came off AS IT IS INTENDED TO DO?

4 spo 06.06.10 at 2:56 pm

As much as it would have pained me, I would not have upheld that decision. The car was incidental to the accident.

5 David Schwartz 06.06.10 at 9:16 pm

spo: One of the reasons she was so badly burned was because she was trapped in her car (by the side of the drive-thru) and unable to exit it. I think that makes the car more than incidental. This type of accident is a risk unique to a drive-thru.

6 CALACTX 06.07.10 at 7:35 am

Maybe drive-thru restaurants need to start serving everything cold! This would stop the lawsuit madness over hot coffee, hot tea and hot grease!

7 spo 06.07.10 at 10:21 am

David, I get that, but do you really think that the statute’s meaning should turn on that? What if some moron were negligently discharging a firearm, hit the woman while she was driving and she wound up getting into an accident, which exacerbated her injuries?

8 Mike 06.07.10 at 10:48 am

The statute is meant to punish people who drive without insurance. If you are worried about being hit with a stray bullet, and having limited legal rights, get the insurance.

9 Anonymous Attorney 06.07.10 at 2:41 pm

Much as I relish this result, I must agree with spo. The law means to cover accidents, not incidentals like this. I’d say the same thing for someone trying to get coverage from their auto insurance as a result of accidentally shooting themselves while leaning on the bumper to clean a rifle.

10 John 06.07.10 at 11:34 pm

You mean there are people in California who have car insurance?

Wait, what?

11 David Schwartz 06.08.10 at 2:02 pm

spo: Yes. Having something decrease your ability to operate vehicle you are driving which causes you to get into an accident is a risk unique to operating a motor vehicle. Can you seriously argue that this accident didn’t flow from the operation of the vehicle?

Anonymous Attorney: In the case of someone leaning on a bumper, there are no risks unique to the operation of a motor vehicle involved. The hypothetical is not comparable.

Remember, these are only non-economic damages that are limited. And the State wants to limit to be broad to encourage people not to operate a vehicle without insurance.

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