Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

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.

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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).

Starbucks claims exclusive rights to “doubleshot”

We normally see Starbucks in this space when they’re being sued over hot coffee, much like the infamous McDonald’s coffee case.

A Tulsa, Oklahoma, coffeeshop, Doubleshot Coffee, however, has received a scary-lawyer letter from Starbucks, claiming that Starbucks has an exclusive right to use the term “double shot” in relation to coffee. The proprietor writes in his blog (via Romenesko):

So today, as a legal clarification, I would like everyone to know that we are not Starbuck’s Doubleshot. If we tricked you into coming in here, thinking you could get a can of Starbuck’s DoubleShot here, please let me know. And if you thought that $2 Tuesday was a sale on Starbuck’s Doubleshot, I vehemently apologize for the confusion and ask you to please not come in here anymore because stupid people annoy me.

“Woman Files $10M Suit Vs. Starbucks”

Janine Arslanian alleges “extensive and gross second and third degree burns to her right hand and arm” from a spill of Starbuck’s coffee. Gee, it couldn’t possibly be the case that the plaintiffs’ bar misled us when they said the Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s coffee case (which we discussed Dec. 10) was unique because it was only McDonald’s coffee that was hot enough to cause serious burns, could it? (Jamie Herzlich, Newsday, Dec. 30).

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