“Uninsured motorist law foils hot coffee suit”

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”]


  • 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.

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

  • 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?

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    Wait, what?

  • 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.