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.
Late-night fast food at a Virginia gas station McDonald’s proves fateful, if not fatal. [Kevin Couch at new, South Carolina-based Abnormal Use: An Unreasonably Dangerous Product Liability Blog]
P.S.: Jim Dedman of the Gallivan firm writes in email: “Walter, we’re big fans of Overlawyered here at our firm in South Carolina, and I myself have been reading it since I was a law student. We started our blog on the first business day of 2010, partially inspired by having read your site for years. Thanks again, and we look forward to being a part of the blogosphere with you.” Inspiring others to jump in is one of the true psychological rewards of blogging.
Aurora Hill alleges that McDonald’s coffee is “extremely hot in the extreme” and caused nervous shock, pain, and scarring when it spilled on her. (Aimee Green, The Oregonian, Feb. 4).
You may recall that part of the trial lawyer fiction about the merits of the infamous Stella Liebeck suit was that it supposedly successfully caused fast food restaurants to lower the temperature of coffee so that no one would ever be burned again.
My faith in humanity is encouraged when I see that the poll of Consumerist blog readers on the topic marks 86% for the option “Hot coffee is hot. Deal with it” on a blog that usually is reflexively pro-trial lawyer. Ironically, I wouldn’t count this suit as entirely meritless: Hill alleges that McDonald’s workers failed to adequately affix the lid to the cup, causing the spill as they handed her the coffee in the drive-through, which, if true, would strike me as actionable.
Canadian health officials require poutine—a Canadian dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy—to be heated to 140 to 165 degrees for health reasons, a temperature somewhat that below of hot coffee. Alas, this is a temperature that can cause second-degree burns if a consumer happens to suffer an epileptic fit and fall face-first into their poutine, as happened to an Ontario teenager dining alone at a local KFC. No lawsuit appears to be planned, though her father seems to be demanding warnings of some sort. (Don Peat, “Teen burned in KFC poutine mishap”, canoe.ca, Jan. 19 (h/t Bumper)). Of course, given that warnings cannot deter epileptic seizures, it’s not clear why this would have made a difference. And as the Mocking Words blog points out:
What if instead she ended up falling down and hitting her head on the concrete floor? Are you going to go around warning people that concrete is a very solid material and that people should be aware that if you fall and hit your head on the floor that it’s going to hurt and is possibly going to injure you?
Or they might get coffee spilled on them [Daily Mail via Free Range Kids]
In an op-ed in the Examiner last week, I express curiosity why the trial bar continues to insist that the infamous McDonald’s coffee case came out correctly decided, to the point that trial lawyer blogs express excitement that a documentary is going to be made about the subject. Of course, if the movie just parrots the urban legends trial lawyers have spread about the case, that would be something else—the fact that the filmmaker was fundraising at the AAJ convention but hasn’t shown her face around any of the tort reform conventions suggests a certain direction about the film.
Speaking of McDonald’s, I’ll be in the Bay Area next week at a couple of law schools giving a presentation called “The Law of McDonald’s: Hot Coffee, Obesity, and Prank Phone Calls” : Golden Gate University Law School on September 10, and UC-Davis on September 11. I’ll also be at UC-Berkeley Law on September 8, and Santa Clara University Law on September 9 talking more generally about tort reform and patent reform specifically.
From Cleveland’s Erie Island Coffee Co., which now has a shop in the city’s East Fourth St. restaurant district. Courtesy @fourgreenis who records it at Twitpic.
An elderly club that had been meeting for four years every Tuesday at the Eye Library in Eye, Cambridgeshire, were told that they could no longer have hot tea or coffee at their meetings, lest it be accidentally spilled on a toddler. They’ve retreated to holding meetings in members’ homes. [Telegraph] Hat tip to F.R.
One can almost fill an entirely separate blog with variations on the McDonald’s hot coffee case. In Manhattan, 77-year-old Rachel Moltner ordered a hot tea from a Starbucks, but had trouble removing the tightly-secured lid, spilling the beverage all over her. (You will recall other lawsuits complaining that the Starbucks lids are not tight enough.) Moltner not only blames Starbucks for her resulting second- and third-degree burns (and recall that the raison d’être of the Stella Liebeck suit was the false claim that only McDonald’s served beverages that were hot enough to cause third-degree burns), but for the broken bones she suffered when she fell out of bed in Lenox Hill Hospital while being treated for burns. Moltner’s asking for $3 million.
Press coverage in the NY Post (h/t P.G.) is short on legal details (though one is encouraged to see Starbucks publicly defending themselves, an apparent change in policy). But I’ve downloaded and uploaded the complaint, which was filed in state court and removed to federal court. The kitchen-sink allegations include a defective cup, defectively hot tea, and a failure to warn. Right now the parties are haggling over federal removal jurisdiction, as Starbucks waited more than thirty days after receiving the complaint–until a formal demand for money was made–to seek removal. This is an interesting example of sandbagging; if defendants remove cases simply on the possibility that alleged damages will exceed the amount-in-controversy requirement, they may incorrectly remove cases that should remain in state court, but if they wait for the formal confirmation from the plaintiff, they may face the allegation that they’ve missed the 30-day window to remove a case–something to consider when plaintiffs’ attorneys complain that defendants reflexively remove cases to federal court that don’t belong there. Moltner has a good argument that Starbucks waited too long to remove, because alleged damages would have clearly exceeded $75,000 despite the lack of an ad damnum clause in the complaint citing a number, but the consequence of such a ruling will be that defendants will be forced to prematurely remove cases that perhaps should not be removed. (Moltner v. Starbucks Coffee Co., #: 1:08-cv-09257-LAP-AJP (S.D.N.Y.)).
Not a great thing to do when pulling away from a Starbucks window and negotiating a turn onto the roadway. Jordan Triplett, 23, wants $250,000 in the Knoxville, Tenn. suit. (Starbucks Gossip via Obscure Store).
Updating our August 2006 post on Alice Griffin v. Starbucks: Griffin alleged that a Starbucks barista spilled hot coffee–195 to 205 degrees–on her, causing second-degree burns on her foot and permanent nerve damage when it scalded her through her pantyhose. A jury agreed and awarded $301,000. The court reduced the award to $201,000, and both sides appealed. On appeal, the New York Appellate Division reduced damages further to $76,000. (Griffin v. Starbucks Corp. (N.Y.A.D. Jun. 5, 2008); Matthew Nestel and Dareh Gregorian, “Gal’s Star’Bucks’ Cut”, NY Post, Jun. 7). New York has tort reform giving judges extra discretion to reduce damages through remittitur.
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If you recall, the theory of defenders of the McDonald’s coffee case was that McDonald’s, and only McDonald’s, served coffee so hot as to burn, and thus merited special disapprobation.
As Overlawyered readers know, that just ain’t so. The recommended serving temperature of coffee can cause third-degree burns; coffee-drinkers prefer coffee that is that hot. Thus, lots of vendors sell coffee that causes third-degree burns when spilled.
Add to that list the Pilot Travel Center truck stop in Mount Sterling, which is the defendant in a Kentucky suit brought by Thomas Skaggs, who says he spilled coffee on his leg in December and got a third-degree burn. The skimpy press coverage on WLKY.com gives no further details other than an unimpressive photo.
Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.:
Anna from Estonia mak[es] it a point to show visiting friends a sight they could never see in the old country. They laugh, they point, they whip out cameras and take pictures. Of the Everglades? No. Of Mount Rushmore or Lady Liberty? No.
Anna said they take pictures of the idiot signs. These she said, crack her friends up. “Caution: Coffee is hot.” Apparently, elsewhere in the world, you don’t need a sign to know this.
More on the deservedly infamous McDonald’s coffee case. Similar discussion: March 2.
You will recall that defenders of the absurd McDonald’s coffee lawsuit insist that the suit was justified because only McDonald’s sold beverages capable of third-degree burns. We’ve repeatedly shown that that claim is fictional, but add one more example: a New Jersey man is suing Starbucks for selling “unsafe” hot tea that caused third degree burns on his hand when he spilled it on himself (though at least, unlike Stella Liebeck, he is claiming that the spill is the store’s fault for failing to attach the lid properly). Because Starbucks does not comment on litigation, they surrender the entire article to the plaintiffs’ attorney for Antonio Couso to use as a platform when the reporter does not bother double-checking any of the lawyer’s claims. (John Petrick, “Starbucks sued over spilled tea”, The Record, Jul. 27).