Posts Tagged ‘hot coffee’

Hot tea lawsuit has interesting procedural quirk

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.)).

Update: Alice Griffin v. Starbucks

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.

Read On…

Hot coffee data point: Thomas Skaggs v. Pilot Travel Center

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 gives no further details other than an unimpressive photo.

Overlawyering making America a laughingstock

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.

Yet another McDonald’s coffee style lawsuit

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).

May 22 roundup

  • Class action lawyer on the divvying up of $6.9M of attorneys fees among 79 attorneys: “There were two firms that . . . we generously gave a substantial award that really didn’t do anything for the common benefit.” But the award is still under seal; the Fifth Circuit is now considering. WSJ: “Unsealing the records would be a good first step, but Mr. Barrett’s statements suggest that the juiciest story is not how the money was divided among the lawyers, but how 79 lawyers extracted nearly twice as much from the defendant for themselves than they won for their 81,000 clients. Just another day at the office for the tort bar.” We reported Apr. 9. [W$J]
  • Street vendor sign of “180-degree coffee” reminds professor that McDonald’s coffee isn’t all that relatively hot. [Childs]
  • Briefing from the Pearson pants case (Apr. 26, etc.). [On Point]
  • FDA scandal! Or is it? Is it really the case, as some claim, that safety is never too expensive? [Point of Law]
  • Trial lawyers and Jay Angoff, at it again, incredibly accusing a non-profit mutual med-mal insurer of gouging. [RiskProf]
  • “Treating patients is a lot harder for this physician—and much less fun—in a climate of fingerpointing.” [Medical Economics via Kevin MD]
  • Are abuse victims squandering their moral authority? [Commonweal]

And more May 17 updates

  • Google beats Perfect 10 in Ninth Circuit appeal over copyright suit over thumbnail images. (Earlier: Feb. 06, Jul. 05, Nov. 04.) [LA Times; WaPo; Bashman; Perfect 10 v. Amazon (9th Cir. 2007)]
  • Judge thinks better over Brent Coon’s attempt to intimidate local press through subpoenas. Earlier: Apr. 24. [WSJ Law Blog]
  • US Supreme Court throws out punitive damages ruling in Buell-Wilson case, lets rest of decision stand. Earlier: Jan. 4 and links therein. Beck and Herrmann also discussed the case in March in the context of a larger discussion of the appropriateness of issuing punitive damages against a company that relied on government safety standards in good faith. [LA Times; AP].
  • Big LA Times piece on the still-pending Extreme Makeover suit, where a family seeks to hold ABC responsible for an intra-household dispute over the spoils of a reality show. Earlier: Mar. 4, Aug. 12, 2005. [LA Times]
  • KFC may have won on trans-fats litigation, as David reported May 3, but they capitulate to Jerry Brown’s pursuit of Lockyer’s equally bogus acrylamide suit over the naturally-occurring chemical in potatoes (Oct. 05, Aug. 05, Aug. 05, May 05, Apr. 04, etc.). KFC will pay a nuisance settlement of $341,000 and will add a meaningless warning in California stores. (Tim Reiterman, “KFC to tell customers of chemical in potatoes”, LA Times Apr. 25).
  • McDonald’s sued over hot coffee. Again. One of the allegations is that McDonald’s failed to secure the lid, which is a legitimate negligence suit, but there’s also a bogus “failure to warn me that coffee is hot” count. [Southeast Texas Record; and a Southeast Texas Record op-ed that plainly read Overlawyered on the subject]

Two more hot coffee lawsuit data points

Add the Stony Brook University Hospital cafeteria to the list of servers unsuccessfully sued over burns caused by hot coffee. If you recall, the theory of the McDonald’s coffee case (and repeated by such trial lawyer defenders as congressional candidate Bruce Braley) was that McDonald’s, and only McDonald’s, served coffee so hot as to burn. For some reason, the reporter for the New York Law Journal tries to leave the reader with the impression that the original Stella Liebeck case was justifiable (though that opinion is irrelevant to the article itself) which shows how successful trial lawyer propaganda has been within the legal community and press. (John Caher, “N.Y. Judge Cool to Injury Claims Over Spilled Coffee”, New York Law Journal, Nov. 2). We earlier listed other hot coffee lawsuit defendants.

Speaking of which, you may recall the Russian McDonald’s coffee case litigation that we covered a year ago, with identical allegations from a woman who spilled coffee on herself; the press is reporting that the plaintiff has dropped her case. As in the Stella Liebeck case, the Russian McDonald’s had a warning on the coffee cup that the contents were hot. (“Moscow McDonald’s coffee-spill case closed”, RIA Novosti, 1 Nov.).