Thursday, June 30, 2016
Back in May, I posted about a legal action against Starbucks for too much ice in its drinks. I referenced in that post the earlier legal action taken against Starbucks for under-filling its latte drinks and against McDonald's for damage done by hot coffee. I can't resist adding another hot coffee case to the mix . . . .
Another suit has been brought against Starbucks--my daughter's employer (as I disclosed at the outset in my previous post). This time, the case involves damage caused by hot coffee resulting from a bad drive-through pass-off. The plaintiff requests up to $1 million "for medical expenses, loss of work, and for the mental and physical pain she claims the burning coffee caused her," according to the news report. The case involves second-degree burns--a serious matter in anyone's eyes. Depending on the facts elucidated at trial, this case may (like the McDonald's case from 20+ years ago) have some traction in court. (Apparently, there have been other Starbucks cases involving hot drinks.)
I do feel sorry for plaintiffs who are damaged by hot coffee or beverages. These cases undoubtedly have more gravitas than cases alleging damages based on the amount of ice or beverage served. Yet, the hot beverage cases still nag at me a bit--maybe because I have trouble conceptualizing suing a coffee service business for damage created by a hot beverage that I ordered. Today, reflecting on this new Starbucks case, I did some soul-searching to determine why I am unlikely to sue.
The bottom line is that I understand there is something inherently dangerous about ordering hot coffee in a paper cup with a plastic lid, especially for pick-up at a drive-through window. I know I am assuming a risk in those circumstances. I also know that I may share or bear blame for any spill that happens after I order--the lid on a cup properly sealed and handed to me loosens and sometimes pops right off if I grab the cup from the top under the lid area. Maybe you've noticed that in handling coffee at your favorite coffee shop . . . .
I am no tort lawyer, but I guess I see myself in many of these cases, which makes me wonder whether the plaintiffs and their lawyers place too much reliance on litigation for the achievement of their respective desired objectives . . . . I would hope that many controversies between businesses and consumers, as I indicated in my prior post, could be resolved outside the litigation process. Not every injury is or should be compensable through a legal action.
Moreover, in my work, I have been critical of many securities fraud (including insider trading) class actions as at best inefficient means of addressing certain plaintiffs' concerns. In my experience, I also have seen cases brought against high-profile or deep-pocket defendants more for their settlement value than to redress or prevent a wrong to the plaintiff or society. My gut tells me that I might be critical of some of the hot coffee cases on the same bases if I came to know more of the facts. But I cannot be sure.
Is my instinct off-base? Am I too quick to see fault in the claims of potential plaintiffs? Am I giving coffee service businesses too much cred? I am interested in any thoughts you may have. In any event, we can be confident that the hot beverage cases will continue for the foreseeable future.
Hat tip to Lou Sirico at Legal Skills Prof Blog for pointing out this case to me.