Coffee Spill: Here We Go Again…

Starbucks won?  McDonald’s lost?  What’s going on?

In my blog entry on the McDonald’s Coffee Case  I explained how that case is one of the most misunderstood lawsuits in the history of mankind. Now we have another case that seems like the same case, except this time it is against Starbucks and this time the lady who was burned lost her case. So what’s up?

In this latest case Rachel Moltner, age 76, burned herself with a cup of Starbucks hot tea while she was in a Starbucks coffee shop.  As a result of spilling the hot tea on her left leg  Ms. Moltner had to have a skin graft. (Ouch!)

In the McDonald’s case the burn victim, Stella Liebeck, age 79, won her case (albeit she didn’t receive very much) because McDonald’s knowingly and intentionally kept making their coffee too hot, even after it had received more than 700 complaints. Bottom line, the McDonald’s coffee was, in fact, too hot.

In this new Starbucks case, the theory was different. In this case Ms. Moltner used the novel “Double Cup” defect theory! (one cup placed into another) The court dismissed the case and stated that the old “Double Cup” method is well known in the industry as a way to prevent people from burning their hands when the cup is too hot.  But Ms. Moltner had evidence that Starbucks had a directive to its employees that said you  should not use the double cup method because it changes the center of gravity of the cup and makes it more likely to tip over.  The court said no case.

So what’s the moral of the story? Well, I can think of a couple. First, if you drink hot drinks, you may wind up with a serious burn and have to have painful skin grafts. Second, when you file a lawsuit, even if you think you have a great case and even if you know someone else who has won a case like yours before, you may still lose.

Bottom line: Be careful….

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