It’s been more than 20 years since a 79-year-old New Mexico woman was awarded millions by a jury after suffering severe burns from scalding coffee served by fast-food restaurant McDonald’s. The claim had been widely derided publicly as frivolous, though what many people didn’t understand was the severity of the woman’s injuries (requiring extensive skin grafts) and the fact the chain had been repeatedly warned that its brew was blisteringly hot.
Now, another popular chain, Starbucks, has been on the receiving end of a number of hot coffee lawsuits. The results have been a mixed blend.
Most recently in South Florida, a man alleges he suffered severe burns when a barista at a drive-through in Pompano Beach did not make sure the lid was securely on the cup. The employee then reportedly failed to make sure plaintiff had a good handle on the cup before letting go, resulting in severe burns to his groin.
According to SouthFloridaReporter.com, the complaint was recently filed in Broward Circuit Court, with the plaintiff seeking in excess of $15,000 in damages. The complaint asserts the coffee had been “exceedingly hot” and was dangerous and unfit for human consumption.
Another pending case out of Oregon involves a customer who makes a very similar complaint. The Oregonian reports that in Garcia v. Starbucks Corporation, plaintiff ordered a cup of hot water, but the employee who handed it to her didn’t make sure the lid was fixed properly on the cup. Further, she alleges the temperature was “far too hot for a person to drink.” Additionally, she said the lid was defectively designed because it popped off the cup while she was using it normally.
When she was handed the drink at the drive-through, the cup spilled, causing first- and second-degree burns on her abdomen, thighs and buttocks that caused blistering and scarring. She is asking the court to compel the coffee company to pay more than $7,000 in medical expenses plus $125,000 for pain and suffering.
An earlier hot coffee injury lawsuit tried in North Carolina did not result in a favorable finding for the plaintiff. In that highly-publicized action, a Raleigh police officer sued after he alleged a defective cup collapsed as it was being handed to him by a Starbucks employee, causing him severe burns on his lap.
He alleged the injury ignited his latent Crohn’s disease, and in addition to the burns, he also had to undergo surgery to remove a portion of his intestine. He was forced to use months of sick leave and had a difficult time returning to his job as a special operations lieutenant. His wife additionally filed a claim for loss of consortium, arguing the injury had put excessive strain on their marriage.
Defense attorneys countered the plaintiff suffered anxiety and illness before the coffee spill, and further there was not enough evidence to defendant company’s worker was responsible for the spill.
Although he sought $750,000 in damages, a divided jury in May sided with the defense.
Companies that serve the public must ensure their products are safe for use and consumption. When they fail and injuries or illnesses result, it’s important to hold them accountable.
Fortunately, most injury lawsuits are brought on a contingency fee basis, which means plaintiffs do not burden the costs of litigation upfront and plaintiff attorneys are only reimbursed if the case is successful.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Update: Starbucks Responds – Exclusive: Florida Man Sues Starbucks Over Hot Coffee Spill, Jan. 9, 2015, southfloridareporter.com
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