A customer has sued Starbucks Corp who claims she suffered second-degree burns after being served tea that was too hot. According to the complaint, the plaintiff Zeynep Inanli was served tea that was “unreasonably hot, in containers which were not safe,” at a Starbucks store in Manhattan. The case is Inanli v. Starbucks Corp et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 105767-2010.
The lawsuit alleges that as a result of Starbucks’ negligence, Inanli suffered “great physical pain and mental anguish,” including the burns. Retailers who serve hot coffee and tea know that when their products are served at certain temperatures, the liquid can cause severe burns to their customers. In fact, there are numerous industry studies that specifically warn businesses that serve coffee and other hot liquids to regularly check the temperature of the coffee to make sure that the temperature is safe for human consumption. These studies point out that there is an important distinction between “hot” coffee and “dangerous” coffee. These companies know or should know that coffee and tea should never be served to customers at or above certain temperatures. These studies also warn businesses that water for coffee or tea should never be warmed up in a microwave oven as the microwaves can superheat the water far beyond the point at which the water is dangerous to touch.
While many people remember the now famous McDonald’s hot coffee case because of the amount of damages the jury awarded, and it is often used as a soundbite or a punchline for people who want to claim lawsuit abuse, you do not hear these people tell the entire story of that case.
Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque, New Mexico was the customer who was severely burned in that case. Ms. Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting. Liebeck, who also underwent debridement treatments. Ask any burn patient how painful this treatment and these types of burns are, and you will know that Ms. Liebeck suffered a great amount of physical pain and suffering and mental anguish.
McDonald’s had documented over 700 complaints from customers who had been burned by McDonald’s coffee, including many who sustained third degree burns. Based on the advice of consultants McDonald’s held its coffee at temperatures ranging between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit, but the consultants had never evaluated the safety ramifications at this temperature. Meanwhile evidence showed that other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.
The temperature at which coffee is served is critical because at certain temperatures, any contact with the hot coffee to the skin will cause a burn. Plus, the hotter the coffee is and the longer it stays on the skin, the more severe the risk for a burn injury. At trial, expert witnesses testified that liquids, at 180 degrees, will cause a full thickness burn to human skin in as little as two seconds. In contrast, other testimony showed that as the temperature decreases toward 155 degrees, the extent of the burn relative to that temperature decreases exponentially. Thus, if Liebeck’s spill had involved coffee at 155 degrees, the liquid would have cooled and given her time to avoid a serious burn.
While it may be understandable that many people who have not seen the pictures of Ms. Liebeck’s injuries or who have not heard the whole story, may have an initial, negative reaction to this type of case, it is not uncommon to see that the customer, like Ms. Liebeck can suffer a massive amount of burns, endure tremendous pain and suffering just like anyone who sustains third degree burns, be forced to under painful medical procedures, and incurthousands of dollars in medical bills because of hot coffee or tea that is served at dangerously hot temperatures.
Montes Law Group, P.C.
Attorneys: Rachel Montes
1121 Kinwest Parkway, Suite 100
Irving, Texas 75063
Telephone (214) 522-9401
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