Poor Starbucks. When not battling accusations of over-roasting beans that result in burnt and bitter-tasting coffees, they’re getting sued by people for putting ice in their iced beverages. Consumer protection laws aside, there’s no stopping people from wanting to claim compensation for the slightest inconvenience and distress. Today, it’s a suit about beverages with too much ice; tomorrow, it’s about foamless cappuccinos or frap-less frappuccinos. The possibilities for filing lawsuits against the billion-dollar coffee chain are endless.
Free coffee takes the heat
We’ve previously debunked the misconception that the infamous Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants lawsuit was frivolous. Plaintiff Stella Liebeck suffered burn injuries because the coffee was indeed too hot for human consumption. In truth, the case’s only fault is inspiring copycat lawsuits.
In 2015, North Carolina police lieutenant Matthew Kohr tried to replicate the “success” of Ms. Liebeck when he sued Starbucks because he spilled a cup of free Starbucks brew on himself. According to his $750,000 lawsuit, the lid of the cup popped off and caused the hot liquid to spill all over his lap, which he claimed resulted in third-degree burns, blisters, and emotional pain.
While there was no doubt that the coffee caused some injuries, a closer look into the case showed that Mr. Kohr’s suit did not hold water. That’s because after the accident, Mr. Kohr did not take himself to an urgent care facility. Instead, he went back to the police department garage to fetch his truck, then went home to have his wife take photos of his burns. It took him two and a half hours before he went to the emergency room.
The Starbucks attorneys also argued that he shouldn’t be compensated because the coffee was free. The judge who ruled in favor of Starbucks probably thought, if the coffee was free, it was probably not that hot.
How hot is too hot again?
Starbucks, however, does not always get away with coffee-related “crimes.”
In 2015, a Florida resident was awarded $100,000 in damages for suffering first- and second-degree burns from a Venti-sized (that’s almost the size of a tumbler), 190-degree hot coffee spill. That IS too hot — coffees made at 180–190 degrees Fahrenheit is sure to scald human skin.
Per the woman’s lawsuit, the cup’s lid popped off while it was being handed to her at a drive-thru. Unlike Mr. Kohr in the previous case, the Florida woman did not wait for a couple of hours to take good photos of her burns.
The big versus the bitter
Ethiopia may be the birthplace of coffee, but Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks. That means lots and lots of Starbucks, not just in the Seattle Metropolitan Area, but in neighboring cities and areas as well.
As the third-largest city in the area, Bellevue is an attractive place to launch a business. So, understandably, a small-business owner like Penny Stafford would like to take a slice of the cake. But “bullies” like Starbucks prevent her from doing so.
Ms. Stafford wanted to open a shop in a Bellevue office building, but it turned out that its landlord had exclusive lease agreements with Starbucks. Later on, she discovered that big, bad Starbucks called first dibs on 78% of downtown Bellevue’s Class A office buildings.
She filed suit against the coffee company for their “insatiable and unchecked ambition,” blocking her much smaller coffee shop, Belvi Coffee and Tea Exchange, from opening at a prime area. Her coffee business, which opened instead at a deli bar, eventually folded.
It was rumored that Starbucks settled out of court presumably because then-CEO Howard Schulz refused to give a deposition. After all, the company had a business to grow and more stores to open.
A customer tries to get a leg up on rude baristas
There are worse things than being forced to order a Starbucks drink, but a Starbucks non-paying customer Janet Marx was not having any of that.
In 2011, Ms. Marx entered a Starbucks in Stockton to tighten a screw on her prosthetic leg in their restroom. However, a barista chased her down upon realizing that she was only going to use their restroom and not order anything. The crew members then allegedly forced her to buy a drink, so she could use the restroom.
Ms. Marx sued for disability discrimination, costs, and attorneys fees. It was also perhaps the last time she set foot in a Starbucks.
If you’ve ever been treated barbarically by a barista resulting in injuries, call personal injury attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams. If you’re suing a barista for a misspelled name on your Starbucks cup, call your mom.