Starbucks Sued Over Spilled Tea

A New Jersey man is suing Starbucks after sustaining 3rd degree burns from hot tea that he claims was improperly “lidded.” The man’s lawyer says, “when he went to pick up the cup, the top wasn’t on correctly. The top came off.

“When you as a consumer go into a Starbucks and order tea and the lid is on the cup, when you pick up the cup, you have a right to expect that the server has put the lid on properly.

“If the tea spills out and burns you, it’s for two reasons: the lid isn’t on properly, or the tea is too hot. … If the beverage was hot enough to cause third-degree burns on Mr. Couso, it was too hot.”

It’s a bit hard to argue that tea can be served “too hot,” being that most black tea needs to be steeped at near boiling temperatures if you’re making it correctly. Lower temperature water is more appropriate for green or white or oolong teas…

We recommend Mr. Couso stick to the “improperly lidded” argument, just in case there are any hardcore tea drinkers on the jury.

Starbucks sued over spilled tea [North Jersey]
(Photo:tiangotlost)

Comments

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  1. sonichghog says:

    Not another one of these…..

  2. vladthepaler says:

    I hate Starbucks, but the only way they should lose this case is if the guy ordered an iced tea.

  3. missdona says:

    3rd Degree? Really? His skin was black and charred from Starbucks tea?

    2nd degree I could kind of see (blisters and stuff), but 3rd degree?

  4. gozilla09 says:

    I am so sick of this shit. Whether suing McDonalds for being too fat, or griping about inappropriate network programming because you are too lazy to take care of your kids, consumers need to step up and take a reasonable amount of responsibility.

    I can understand the purpose of a lawsuit if you are served tainted food or if you are injured using a product that was improperly manufactured, but come on! Improperly lidded tea? Sickening…

  5. cde says:

    Before anyone comes on and starts calling shenanigans and frivolous, remember that THIRD DEGREE burns lead to massive scarring, death of nerves and even use of muscle.

    Then again, I’m calling shenanigans and frivolosity to “His wife seeks compensation for the loss of certain services from her husband because of his injury, the suit states.” and “It accuses Starbucks of breaching that duty and of “negligently and carelessly” selling unsafe tea.” Hot tea is hot, and accordingly, unsafe. People are willing to suffer a burnt tongue to have some.

  6. DashTheHand says:

    Another frivolous lawsuit of stupidity.

  7. Pelagius says:

    Why am I not surprised this is happening in New Jersey?

  8. capstinence says:

    So do I get to sue SBux for the multiple times their hot water spigot dripped onto my bare hands after I was done pouring some asshole’s 10-honey-packets Green Tea?

    I’ve been burned by more of the boiling hot water than this guy, and my hands are fine.

  9. DashTheHand says:


    Ricky Martin: It’s me! Come on, Ricky Martin! Come on! [ music starts ]. Oh my! In this cup there’s some hot tea! It’s hot hot hot! Watch! [ takes a sip ] Yow! Hot hot hot! So the answer is: Hot hot hot! or cold. Hot hot hot! or cold. Come on! Hot hot hot!

    [ video fades ]. [ no one buzzes in. ]

    Alex Trebek: None of you knows. No one can figure out if the hot tea is hot or cold. [ Reeves buzzes in. ] Thank God! Keanu Reeves.

    Keanu Reeves: Is it iced tea?

    Alex Trebek: [ agitated ] No! It’s hot tea!

    Keanu Reeves: Well, then I have no idea.

  10. Toof_75_75 says:

    It’s pretty scary to think there are this many of these idiots running around our planet…”ZOMG…I think I found a finger in my Starbucks and it was not properly labeled as ‘Finger in coffee may be hot’…SUE SUE SUE!!!”

  11. balthisar says:

    Have they changed the definition of third degree burns in the last 20 years? Like said above, that indicates blackened, charred skin.

  12. hypnotik_jello says:

    @Toof_75_75: Lazy, Greedy, Stupid, Dumb fucks.

  13. Black Bellamy says:

    First of all, he could still beat his wife with his other hand, so his wife is way off-base with her claim. For which, of course, she should be beaten. Aah, the circle of life. Anyway…

    Whenever I get a lidded container, I put my hand on top and check the seal. I do this with any lid, all the time. Hot cups of coffee, tea, cold soda, juice, water, urine specimen cups, goat milk, etc. Everything. Why? It’s just one of those things I do as a non-retarded adult.

    One of the benefits of a dozen-plus years as a child was where I learned that if you receive something into your possession that has a lid, a lock, a seal of any kind, and you don’t check it yourself personally, frequently your shit will break or spill.

    In short, you can’t depend on people to close things properly.

    Every reasonable human being knows this.

  14. Jigen says:

    These types of lawsuits don’t make sense. Look dude, you bought hot tea, its hot, be careful. You can’t sue someone over yourself being a total idiot.
    Its like when people sue for falling in a parking lot in the winter. No matter how much salt you throw down there will still be slick patches, so watch out. Common sense can go a long ways.

  15. Wormfather says:

    Wormfather, reprising role as Devil’s Advocate.

    Well, the barista should have put the cap on. At the very least if the barista didnt put the cap on, I’d be expecting my medical bills to get paid for.

  16. remusrm says:

    I actually i agree on this issues… not the lawsuit. I do go to s bucks for house, Columbia and lite note coffee. I did get burned too. They have a tendency here in Cali to not give you the sleeve and is damn hot, also they do not properly close the lid since they themselves burn up when they do that. I am not surprised since they overheat all of their stuff too.

  17. bbbici says:

    It is impossible to achieve 3rd degree burns from water. The skin has to be burned clean off, right down to the meat. Perhaps pressurized steam for a lengthy period of time might be capable, but a splash of sub-boiling water does not contain enough energy.

  18. Toof_75_75 says:

    @Wormfather:

    I still would not agree with you. There has to be some level of personal responsibility. What was he doing that made the tea spill in such a horrible fashion anyways? And even if the cap was on, wasn’t there still a good chance he’d have ended up burned doing whatever he was doing? If you think about those foam cups, it doesn’t take much of a squeeze to pop the top off or at least dislodge it. Seems to me there’s an equal chance he dislodged the lid himself.

  19. killarclown says:

    I thought you had to put your own lid on after putting milk and sugar in yourself.. at least we do that around here.. but thankfully i’m paying extra for the delight of doing so.

  20. campero says:

    Another one who doesn’t want to be responsible for his own actions…what’s new?

  21. sp3nc3 says:

    The principles of defensive driving should apply to all aspects of life: always expect that the other guy is going to screw up. Sure when I by a drink, hot or cold, the lid should be put on properly before it’s handed to me. But because I don’t want to get burned or spill soda on my leather seats, I always double check.

    Common sense, people!

  22. Murph1908 says:

    I college, I was cooking dinner for my 50 house mates. I placed boiling water in the bowl of the industrial mixer, but the bowl was not seated properly. The water, which could be no cooler than the water of this goofball, splashed me. It got my entire forearm.

    My burns were limited to merely first degree, and I didn’t even go to the doctor. Hurt to take notes in class, but other than that, no worries. (I am just glad the potatoes were not yet in the bowl.)

    It was my fault for not checking that the bowl was seated properly by the guy before me. It was goofball’s fault for not handling his tea with proper care.

    Next up if this this lawsuit goes through, Starbucks stops placing lids on hot drinks.

  23. AtomikB says:

    Maybe it is Starbucks’ fault that the tea was too hot or the lid wasn’t on right. If that’s the case, they should pay the guy’s medical bills and compensate him for lost wages if he missed work. That’s all. They should compensate him for the inconvenience. If he’s asking for any more than these expenses, he a douchebag and deserves nothing.

  24. niteflytes says:

    He probably picked up the cup by the top, i.e. the lid, which is a dumb thing to do with any cup of liquid, hot or cold. If he did pick it up properly then he must not have been very careful with how he picked it up. Even if the lid is on properly it’s prudent to be careful not to tip the cup since the liquid can pour out of the drinking hole. Either way it’s a frivilous lawsuit.

  25. n/a says:

    This suit really reminds me of a certain Seinfeld episode does it not?

  26. skitchparks says:

    How are people that stupid supposed to succeed in life? I’m in coffee shops all the time and out of instinct (or lack of stupidity) always check when I purhcase a drink to make sure the lid is on. AHHHH!

  27. DashTheHand says:

    @D3Anon: Thats because the Seinfeld episode that was moching this issue was based off the idiot awhile back that sued McDonalds for his ‘HOT COFFEE’ not being labeled that it was hot.

  28. skitchparks says:

    at last they upgraded from McDonalds@sonichghog:

  29. inno says:

    For the sake of the human gene pool, I hope the tea burned off his reproductive faculties.

  30. Toof_75_75 says:

    @inno:

    I was wondering if that’s what his wife meant by “…loss of certain services from her husband because of his injury, the suit states.”

  31. topgun says:

    Why is common sense not common?

  32. BII says:

    Sometimes those lids don’t seal very well (either to a defect in the lid or the cup), so I always try to hear for the snap sound on them before handing them off.

    But for the tea being too hot, i’ve heard this from more than one customer, complaining that it’s too hot, they burned their tongues, etc, etc. Who would have thought, tea is hot? sigh.

    So then I start telling people “careful the tea is hot, and I get the “yeah I know its hot, you idiot espresso jockey.” sigh.

    What’s a well meaning barista to do? I hate serving tea anyways, its not any healthier for you than coffee, IMO, its more dishes to wash, and I hate having to explain the differences between 11ty different black, green, oolong, and tisane blends and variatels anyways.

  33. Nicholai says:

    @Toof_75_75:

    Yah, I think that’s what she was trying to say. There is no way he could have gotten 3RD degree burns from starbucks water. I’ve gotten tea their before, and YES they brew it very hot. But still, 3RD degree?

  34. falconree says:

    @missdona:

    I am NOT in agreement with these “out to make a buck off ya” stupid lawsuits, but,

    3rd degree does not imply the ‘color’ of the burned skin, if it is charred or not.
    The degrees are measured at the depth and damage of the layers . . . deep enough and enough layer damage over a large enough surface is a very serious and nasty owie.
    Like my Doc-talk?

    I side with the consumers savvy enough to simply push down on the top of your liddie-lid as you reach for it to be assured it is secure in the first place.

    The same dingiddy-ding-dong would complain about how “slow” the service is if they took 2seconds longer to double check the lid(s).

    Ok, I’m done for now. . . . .;-)!

  35. Cowboys_fan says:

    This is so brutal. The worst part is they will most likely win, as history shows. My mom is an avid tea drinker. She specially orders it boiling. She avoids shops that don’t use kettles to boil the water as the machines are not hot enough. She knows it could burn her, she would never consider suing if it did. Those lids come off so easily, don’t always even fit right, add in the steam in the lid for lubrication, and every hot drink is potentially harmful. They have alternatives for these people who don’t want it hot, its called iced tea.

  36. guroth says:

    They put “Caution: Contents may be hot” on there so that they can’t get sued if someone burns themselves with it.


    The argument for the lid is just ridiculous.

  37. CumaeanSibyl says:

    I kind of doubt a third-degree burn caused by liquid would involve “blackened, charred skin,” given that liquid kind of can’t char things.

    The McDonald’s burn case did actually involve third-degree burns caused by hot liquid — which was why the plaintiff actually received compensation instead of being laughed out of court. If the doctors say this guy got third-degree burns, then he’s got grounds and precedent for the suit — though I’m wondering how the hell boiling water can cause third-degree burns if the limb isn’t immersed in it. The McDonald’s lady spilled coffee in her lap, where it was kind of trapped by clothes and gravity long enough to cause serious damage — spilling tea on your arm shouldn’t produce the same effect.

  38. slapstick says:

    Who picks up a cup by the lid? Seriously, are any to-go cups stable enough for that, 100% of the time?

    Bring your own cup to Starbucks, one with a screw on cap. They give you a discount for it, and no boo-boos.

  39. Voyou_Charmant says:

    I’m torn. Part of me feels that if you are a clumsy well….. bummer. Part of me knows that lids can be put on improperly and can come off when a properly attached lid would not. Another part of me cant, for the life of me, understand why tea and coffee is kept only slightly cooler than the surface of the sun.

    I have never purchased a cup of coffee that didnt require 5-10 minutes to cool before i could drink it without it melting my fillings.

    So i say screw the restaurants that think you have developed mutant powers which prevent your tongue from sizzling at just the thought of how hot your coffee will be.

  40. mechanismatic says:

    @guroth: Or rather “Caution: The beverage you’re about to enjoy is hot!” Does that mean if I don’t enjoy it, I can sue? :-)

  41. How is he even going to prove it’s the server’s fault and not his? Like Cowboys_fan said the steam or how the lid fit could have caused it to come off which is not the server’s fault. It could have been his own fault like niteflytes1 suggested.

    It doesn’t help that the lawyer states that tea tastes better brewed at higher temperatures:

    “These companies know the temperatures that they need to brew at, in order to make their beverages taste better. Sometimes, they will do that at the risk of the customer.”

  42. missdona says:

    @falconree:

    It’s miss dona, not dr dona

    duely corrected.

  43. amyjay says:

    All drinks involving near-boiling water (tea and Americanos) get double-cupped as a precaution. I’d figure the fact that they give you two cups and a sleeve would be enough of a warning that’s it’s damn hot.

    Although, I must say I hate it when they line up the mouth hole with the seam of the cup. That almost always leaks.

  44. lonelymaytagguy says:

    Oh yeah? Well, the lid on my cup of Coke came loose and I spilled it on myself. My hand is paralyzed from the frostbite of the freezing cold liquid and I can no longer perform my work as a concert pianist, the carbon dioxide mixed with the moisture on my skin creating corrosive carbonic acid, and the ice cubes got caught in the acceleration of the Earth’s gravitational field and shattered my legs. The sugar in the Coke attracted disease bearing insects, and became sticky as it dried so when I took off my pants, what skin that remained after the acid and ice pelting, ripped off stuck to the cloth.

  45. Pixel says:

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    Teas that have little or no oxidation period, such as a green or white tea, are best brewed at lower temperatures around 80°C, while teas with longer oxidation periods should be brewed at higher temperatures around 100°C

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    Scald Time (Hot Water)
    Temperature: 155F (68.3C)
    Max duration until injury: 1 second

    Hot tea will burn you. The temperatures needed to brew tea are far enough above the temperatures that will scald you that there is no way to brew tea without there being a scald risk. If you are going to order hot tea, you are going to be served a cup of scalding hot water. If you don’t take precautions, it is your own fault if you get burnt.

  46. Ncisfan says:

    What is this country coming to! Its called personal responsibility check the god damn lid before you pick up the cup and if the lid is loose or improperly placed on the cup fix the problem or notify the cashier! Jesus!!! The Idiots Are coming corporations and normal people Take cover

  47. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Hooray..another BS lawsuit. “Hey, this plastic lid was off just a bit and WHOOPS! Maybe I can get some free cash out of Starbucks and buy that new RV I wanted!”

    I think Starbucks should pay the medical bills just to make good, although it’s not their fault Mr. Couso didn’t check the lid or that…OMG..the tea was hot! Scandalous!

    As for pain and suffering…boo hoo, you were scalded by tea, not relegated to the trauma ward for 5 years. Get over it. And as for the ridiculous allegations from his wife suing over “loss of services”….just give me a break. Last time I knew, that had nothing to do with the hand.

    According to the article, when Mr. Couso went to pick up the cup, the top came off. And what, the tea jumped up out of the cup and splashed all over his face?

    Pretty soon we’re all going to be drinking cold beverages because a few people are too stupid to handle tea and coffee safely.

    Next up…stupid man shoves fork into electrical outlet and gets electrocuted…sues because neither fork nor outlet had warning labels.

  48. trecool95 says:

    Seriously though, where can I get a bumper sticker like that?

  49. nidolke says:

    I liked this better the first time around when it happened at McDonald’s.

  50. Mary says:

    For the record, when I was a barista we were actually instructed NOT to put lids on drinks for this exact reason. The lids were kept right there where we passed over the drinks, but we didn’t put lids on them because if they weren’t secured, we could get in trouble.

    I dare you to calculate how often baristas get burned because of things like this. I know I got plenty of hot tea and coffee on myself. Including directly on my clothes, and NONE of that resulted in second degree burns.

    Burning myself on the convection oven didn’t give me a second degree burn. The water we used for tea spilling over directly onto my hands from the tap? Nope. It didn’t even hurt after a few hours. And that water was literally steaming.

    I might not like Starbucks but this is ridiculous. I don’t see how he could have gotten third degree burns unless he held his hand in the water for an inordinate amount of time or something…

  51. iamtravis says:

    seinfeld, anybody?

  52. ingridc says:

    First Mr. Fancypants, and now Mr. Tea?

    (bwahahahaha… sorry, couldn’t help it ;)

    Personally, I like my tea scalding hot. As aforementioned, many teas won’t brew properly unless the water is extremely hot. I’ll wait the 5-10 minutes for cool down time in order to get a decent cup of tea, especially if I’m paying more than $1.50 for it…

  53. Kurtz says:

    @missdona: I think you mean “duly corrected”.

  54. ZonzoMaster says:

    @iamtravis: I know, Kramer and his crazy lawyer.

  55. kingcreon says:

    Next time there’s lawsuit like this, it’s going to be someone suing for getting frostbite from iced tea.

  56. Nice to see my photo is been used for a good cause.


    [www.tian.cc]

  57. Havok154 says:

    Look at me, I can’t make sure my lid is on completely. I’m so clumsy that I can’t help but spill boiling hot tea on myself. I also need someone to dress me and wipe my butt.

    I just hope that the tea was hot enough to sterilize him, preventing this guy from ever making more humans as incapable as himself.

  58. RedSeven02 says:

    I wonder if the patrons of dim sum restaurants realize that everytime they ask for more tea, it’s a possible windfall just waiting to happen? Because, as we all know, those immigrants who own and work there have all that disposable income.

    Where’s Roy “Fancy Pants” Pearson when you need a frivolous lawsuit?

  59. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    It’s people like this idiot that force companies to put warnings like
    “Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after use.” on CHILDREN’S tylenol (or cough medicine, I don’t remember, but regardless, the important part is children’s medication). Yeah the world would be a whole lot safer if we kept those 4-year-olds off the forklifts!!!!!!!

    Tea is hot. Be careful. Period. On the rare occasions I order something hot at Starbucks, I not only check the lid before I pick up the drink, but I also go to the milk and sugar counter and pick up a sleeve EVEN BEFORE I pick up the drink. The thing’s got your name on it; it’s not going anywhere. Oh, and the coffee near the temperature of the sun thing, it’s the law. You HAVE TO keep hot drinks at like 160F or something by law; some sort of food safety thing.

    And the wording on the cups is “CAUTION: The beverage you are about to enjoy is extremely hot.” It’s near the bottom of the cup under the big logo. Check it out next time you go to Starbucks.

    Case Dismissed! *Bangs gavel*

  60. embean says:

    I work for Sbux and have to agree with the poster above who commented that tea-water spills on us all the time. It probably is hot enough to “scald” you, yes, but if anyone should have 3rd degree burns, it should be me, and I sure don’t. I’ve had entire cups of tea spill on me and nothing bad yet. I work in Canada and we never lid cups for customers. It’s sort of dumb when you just have to take the lid off to put milk, etc. in. And, we never double-cup water-based drinks, that would be a giant waste of cups. Policy in Canada is that water-based drinks always get a sleeve before handing off to customers (and still no lid). And, even with the no lidding, I’ve never witnessed a customer spill on themselves. And, even if they did it would be their fault and there wouldn’t be any suing over it? Starbucks cups are CLEARLY marked regarding the temperature of the drink. The sleeves are too. He might have a chance if this wasn’t true, but it is.

  61. StevieD says:

    Oh Jesus Christ. What a Whinny baby. Big Whoop, the lid was loose. 3rd Firetrucking degree burns. Yea, right. I worked as patient pusher during college at a Level 1 trauma unit. Wanna see what 3rd Degree burns really look like? Yes steam burns are serious and they do happen. I got to see a poor dude that got hit by a steam blast from an open autoclave door. That was serious. But when the poor girl down at the bowling alley got burnt on the leg by a pot of coffee when the handle broke off, the burn was nothing more than a good 2nd degree with a couple blisters. Being burnt by a splash from a cup of hot water? Doesn’t pass the stink test.

    Oh, and what idiot doesn’t check the lid to any beverage? I learned that lesson real well many years ago taking specimen cups to the lab. Spilled urine cups tend to leave one very stinky.

  62. steviededalus says:

    I recently wrote a paper on hot beverage liability and I have to say that this guy stands almost no chance of winning. Most courts/juries say what others have said, that personal responsibility overrides any duty a vendor has to secure lids/serve coffee tepid, etc., and that hot beverages being hot is an open and obvious danger.
    The McDonald’s coffee case everyone refers to ([en.wikipedia.org]) is actually kind of special, in that McDonalds seemed to do everything wrong in handling the case. They argued that the victim was being overly litigious, despite McDonald’s insultingly low settlement offers to cover her medical expenses being what lead her to get a lawyer. A McDs VP testified that coffee injuries weren’t significantly serious to warrant more warnings/cooler coffee/stronger cups while pictures of the victim’s burned lady bits were still on display.
    The Liebeck case is actually a great example of how to mess up a can’t lose lawsuit defense. Even then, the jury reduced the award because they also felt the plaintiff was partly responsible.

  63. SrtaMaestra says:

    I made the mistake of joking about the McDonald’s case in front of an attorney and received quite an education. A. the woman was NOT driving, she was the passenger in the car. B. As another post said, coffee spilled in her lap, trapped by clothing, and she received severe burns in a very delicate area. C. Probably the most surprising at all to me was the fact that McDonald’s knowingly served their coffee several degrees hotter than other similar restaurants, because it tasted better, despite the fact that they also shelled out some amount of cash every year for burns. The fact that they did pay out money every year for this was evidence that they knew (or should have known) that the coffee presented a danger, but they considered those injuries and the money they paid out for them to be ‘just the cost of business’, showing little regard for their customers’ safety. It’s sad how that case was really twisted, and most of us probably just giggle about the ‘silly person who didn’t really think the coffee would be hot’. Like many others, I find it hard to believe tea guy would be so badly burned (or that he couldn’t check that the lid was secure for himself like most of us do when we pick up a scalding hot beverage), but maybe, just maybe, there’s more to the case than we all know, because the media loves to make people in these lawsuits look like idiots.

  64. CoffeeAddict says:

    I think this guy is an idiot. Starbucks ussually gets to you to put your own lid on so it’s your own dumb fault it you burn yourself. Now tea is supposed to be hot if it wasn’t you’d be having a fit because it was cold. I swear Americans have to drop the attitude and stop suing everyone. Learn from us canadians and just live and let live.