Starbucks Spilled Tea Lawsuit Dismissed

Starbucks proved victorious in the courtroom yesterday. The coffee colossus convinced an appeals court to uphold a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the company was liable for burns suffered from a cup of spilled tea.

In Feb. 2008, a then 76-year-old NYC woman claims she suffered burns to her leg after spilling her venti-sized tea when she tried to remove the lid. The burn required a skin graft and the $3 million lawsuit alleged that her stay in the hospital bed left her with bed sores and herniated discs.

From Reuters:

The plaintiff accused Starbucks of serving tea that was too hot in a double cup — one cup placed inside another — that was defectively designed. She also said Starbucks should have warned her the tea could spill.

In its decision, the appeals court noted that “double-cupping is a method well known in the industry as a way of preventing a cup of hot tea from burning one’s hand.”

Her lawyer sees things differently:

The other side presented an old lady knocking over her tea… The case was really about that Starbucks has a directive to employees that you should not double-cup because it changes the center of gravity and can cause the cup to tip over.

This is just one of several suits filed against Starbucks over spilled beverages. In May, we wrote about the man who says he suffered “great physical pain and mental anguish” after sipping some allegedly too-hot tea. And then there’s the Brooklyn woman who accidentally spilled hot tea on her son and is blaming Starbucks, claiming the cup was too hot to hold on to.

Starbucks defeats woman’s tea burn lawsuit [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. junip says:

    This just in: Hot things are hot!

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      And things that are smaller at the bottom than they are at the top have a tendency to be top-heavy!!

      • obits3 says:

        And cups tend to become very top-heavy when you “remove the lid” (Reuters). Why? Because you are pulling on the top! This case has less to do with double-cupping and more to do with not understanding what happens when you try to remove a lid. There is a reason why I don’t open my coffee in my car… it has a tendency to spill.

    • Phineas says:

      I’m just surprised she didn’t sue for tea being wet.

    • mandy_Reeves says:

      that is what the sleeve thingy is for. Also, I am just waiting for the day when someone claims brain damage from Brain Freeze after sipping a frappucino too quick…and yes in before an Einstein swoops in to say brain freezes are actually cold receptors in the roof of your mouth and somehow it makes you think it’s your head hurting.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        The sleeve just isn’t enough for some people. I once witness a woman ask the barista to double cup her drink and put a sleeve on it.

    • c!tizen says:

      I’m sorry, I’m going to need a citation.

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      The weather forecast for tonight will be dark, with continued dark overnight and scattered light occurring towards morning.

  2. Kibit says:

    I don’t purchase tea at Starbucks because it is extremely hot. I wish they would serve their tea at a cooler temperature. I do not blame Starbucks for the accident. I think customers should use a bit more common sense.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Boiling water is the same temperature everywhere, unless you happen to live in a sealed pressure cooker. Black tea is brewed at full boiling temperature. If you are drinking a different sort of tea, then you wait for your water to cool a bit before brewing. It’s only rocket science in the sense that thermodynamics requires hard math stuff, OK?

      • sqlrob says:

        Boils at 203 in Denver.

      • cash_da_pibble says:

        Yes, but most people aren’t served BOILING tea.
        Even if black tea is brewed boiling, it shouldn’t be SERVED at boilin.- as black tea needs to be steeped 3-5 minutes before serving.

        Your snark, while smart, isn’t necessarily appreciated.

        • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

          Do you really think they serve tea at boiling temperature? Wouldn’t they have to actually keep brewed tea in a boiler to do that? Personally I prefer to be handed a piping hot cup of water with the tea in it–that way I can time my own brew.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          You’re kidding, right?

          Nobody is served boiling tea. Even Starbucks is not that slick. The minute it’s in the cup, it’s not boiling anymore.

          Oddly enough the kettle in most homes announces water fit for tea when it’s contents are, oh, I dunno… boiling. Into the cup it goes along with the bag, or lose tea to steep. No longer boiling, and yet only a child not old enough to know better would attempt to drink it until it’s cooled.

          Why is Starbucks to be held to any different standard than what happens in millions of households?

      • KishuT says:

        Water in fact does NOT boil at the same temp everywhere. Higher altitude causes water to boil at lower temperatures due to the atmospheric pressure. nice try.

        • Snaptastic says:

          I enjoy high altimeter days here (Colorado) because I can microwave a cup of water and it will boil much quicker than the days when the altimeter is lower. _^

    • PhineasNanerpuss says:

      Ask for your tea to be brewed with mostly hot water and then finished off with cool water from the filtered taps. If you’re not super picky about the proper extraction temperatures, this yields a really drinkable temperature.

  3. Midwest Doc says:

    William Shakespeare, Henry Vi (Part 2), Act IV, Scene II

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Doubling the cups is a quick and cheap method of protecting the hands from a hot beverage. It’s not a magical formula to prevent spills. I don’t know how this lady survived 78 years without knowing that things can tip over and spill. If Starbucks had taken the cautious road and told the lady “be careful, it’s hot and can spill,” would the lady be appreciative or would she slam Starbucks with a complaint that the employees are discriminatory and are ageist?

    • Rommel says:

      I don’t mean to be rude, but, and there are many like this, if they did tell her to be careful, she might have responded in that manner, they are ageist. She then would (most likely, I guess) proceed to spill the drink anyway and sue because it was too hot.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        So you’re saying that if she perceives a warning to be ageist than it is ageist? I’m just trying to figure out what you’re trying to say.

  5. Rommel says:

    Good for them. I don’t care much for StarBucks, but if there was a warning label I don’t quite see the problem. This reminds me of the time that lady up north fell on a patch of ice outside of a McD’s and sued for hospital payments… except that lady won.

    • Odin Zifer says:

      Very different
      The McD’s lady did not order ice on where ever she fell but the Starbucks woman did order hot tea.
      also McD’s is responsible for there property

      • xjeyne says:

        Agree. McD’s should be properly maintaining their parking lot, knowing that people will be walking to and from their cars and the restaurant. They should have salted.

    • Macgyver says:

      That happened to me about 10 years outside a McD’s in NYC. It was like 20 degrees, and they were washing the sidewalk. But I didn’t sue, cause I wasn’t hurt.
      Don’t they know anything under 32 degrees is gonna freeze.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      My aunt slipped inside a restaurant and it actually was the restaurant’s fault because it was storming and they had propped open the door and there was water on the tile in the entryway. She didn’t sue, but we didn’t stay to eat there, either.

  6. D0rk says:

    I’m no drinking cup physics expert, but really? He lawyer claims that double-cupping changes a cups center of gravity?

    • ubermex says:

      It does, because of the way cups nest, it creates a large empty space at the bottom where there isn’t any liquid until further up from the bottom, raising the center of gravity by a little bit.

      I mean, we can argue about if it’s enough to matter until the cows come home, but yes, it does actually change the center of gravity.

      • D0rk says:

        I knew that mathematically, it was a small difference. But it’s being argued by her lawyer like it actually makes a difference in any situation other than when the cup is already tilted at a dangerous angle. Lawyers get desperate for leads sometimes..

        • ubermex says:

          Well it depends. Think about those starbucks cups. They have pretty thick paper on the sides, they’re tall and taper gradually and they have a 1cm rim to stand on at the bottom. Those things together could add as much as half an inch of empty space at the bottom. With a cup that’s already wider at the top, I could see that adjusting the center of gravity by maybe as much as an inch. That’s not insignificant.

          I mean, they still lost the case, but I’m not so sure that’s an ENTIRELY meritless argument about the balance.

          • xjeyne says:

            Yeah, but what was the woman doing when she tried to pull the lid off? Did she have it sitting on a flat surface, in a cupholder in her car, holding it in her hand?

            If she had it sitting in the cupholder in her car or was physically holding it when she tried to remove the lid then the changed center of gravity is a moot point because the cupholder would have provided extra depth to prevent tipping, and if she was holding it then you’d have to take her word for it that a 76 year-old woman is dexterous enough to be able to hold, what, 32oz of hot liquid filled to the brim of the cup in one hand while taking the lid off with the other.

            I could only see that argument having merit if she went into the store to purchase the tea and then took it to the condiment station, put it on the counter, and then tried to take the lid off to add milk and sugar. But even then, why would you try to take the lid off a hot beverage without holding it steady with the other hand?

    • Mom says:

      It might on a small cup, but on a Venti, the change in the center of gravity wouldn’t have been enough to change the outcome.

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Actually, the taller cups are more rectangular (taller AND narrower proportionally), which raises the center of gravity compared to the smaller cups. The “Tall” cup is more squat and square, placing the center of gravity lower. However, the taller cups hold more mass, and may take more force to tip over. Hmm….

  7. Fumanchu says:

    Lol, “Starbucks should have warned her the tea could spill”…. Has she never heard of fluid dynamics? Or for that matter gravity?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      When she was a child, the world was flat and women belonged in the kitchen. I’m guessing fluid dynamics wasn’t as much of a priority as housewifery.

      • longdvsn says:

        Actually, for an old lady like that, she should know a lot about fluid dynamics since she should have gotten plenty of experience cooking (including with liquids such as soup) and washing dishes (with soap and water)

      • obits3 says:

        Very true, I would never expect someone who does a lot of kitchen work to understand how tea and cups work… oh wait =)

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          I was joking, really, because if you’ve lived a good chunk of your middle age in the “modern era” you have got to know how a paper cup and plastic lid work, but it seems to me that a lot of the sympathy was because she was old. I mean, doesn’t that mean you’ve had decades to learn how these things work by now?

          • obits3 says:

            I know, I was joking too =)

            You’re point is valid. Should older people be smarter or is that just something parents use to control thier kids?

          • George4478 says:

            That reminds me of my grandmother-in-law who blamed her frugality from being a child in the Depression.

            Therefore a batch of her chocolate chips cookies made 70 years later had almost no chips in them. It was like a bizarre Tollhouse version of “Where’s Waldo” to find a cookie with a chip in it.

  8. stevenpdx says:

    Hot tea is hot.

  9. rosufo says:

    “…because it changes the center of gravity and can cause the cup to tip over.”

    Huh? What science is he using??

  10. Sword_Chucks says:

    Isn’t this the first problem?
    “spilling her venti-sized tea when she tried to remove the lid”

    I’d like to focus on the part “When she tried to remove the lid”
    How is that starbuck’s problem?

    P.S. I just finished watching Battlestar Galactica for my second time, I sort of got Starbuck and Starbuck’s mixed up for a second

  11. edicius is an acquired taste says:

    *looks at his Starbucks cup*

    Hmm. “Careful, the beverage you’re about to enjoy is extremely hot.”

    Case closed.

  12. KyBash says:

    There is a vast difference between “hot, so it must be consumed with caution” and “so hot it causes bodily injury.”

    Double-cupping does affect the center-of-gravity. The greatest problem is not the amount of change but the perception — people subconsciously know how far a cup can be tipped without it falling over, but that rule doesn’t hold true for double-cupped. What you normally do, without thinking, is perfectly safe, but in this instance it means disaster.

    • UberGeek says:

      Bodily damage starts to occur quickly at about 160F. A good rule of thumb is to steep green and white teas at 175F, oolong and black tea at 195F, and herbal tea at 205F. If you don’t want tea hot enough to harm you, you should ask for it to be chilled somehow.

      • KyBash says:

        Coffee is brewed at 212, but you don’t hand someone a cup of boiling water and expect them to drink it.

        Normal transfer and other handling routines brings the serving temp down from brewing temp.

        If your process delivers the item at dangerous temperatures, your process needs to be changed.

        • UberGeek says:

          To quote Douglas Adams, “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

          So you think Starbucks should serve a substandard product because some moron might hurt themselves? Someone might miss their mouth and stick a straw in their eye, too. Maybe they shouldn’t put straws in Frappuccinos

          Hot coffee and hot tea are served….. hot. If you’re too stupid to handle a hot beverage, order it cold. Here’s an idea, try a latte. Only a thoroughly scorched cup of steamed milk will be above 160F. Then you would have a right to complain.

  13. Macgyver says:

    Doesn’t every coffee cup in the world have a caution warning on them saying that contents are hot.
    It’s her own damn fault for spilling it, not Starbucks.

  14. classic10 says:

    Did you put the balm on? Who told you to put the balm on? Why did you put the balm on?

  15. oldtaku says:

    I guess Starbucks should have warned her she could fall out of bed in the hospital too.

    Frivolous crap like this devalues suits for offenses that are really criminally defective.

  16. AllanG54 says:

    It’s about time we had some common sense judges. Congrats to him/her.

  17. haggis for the soul says:

    Hey, is that a Blythe doll in the picture? I had one of those when I was a kid. Creepiest doll ever, and we loved her.

  18. AmPriS says:

    I have burnt myself on their Tea because they had failed to place the top on all the way. It hurts a lot and it had blistered my hand, normally when you pour tea into a mug diffusion causes the tea to cool a bit quicker, the Starbuck’s cup insulates the heat well keeping the tea hot longer.

  19. sopmodm14 says:

    is the lawyer dumb ? if you move the cup, like, as if you were in the act of drinking, single, double, triple cups would still change the center of gravity

    just like in football, she had possession, and she fumbled….it wasn’t during the exchange i don’t think

    if she is such an idiot, half of starbucks clientele would be denied drinks and they’d go out of business.

  20. Murbob says:

    And people wonder why our legal system is so screwed up.

    This lady and her lawyer should be fined for bringing up such a stupid law suit.

    Should we also put warnings on stop signs that tell you what could happen if you don’t stop?

    Its HOT freaking tea lady!! Take some personal responsibility and throw yourself off a bridge. I have to wonder if she’s ever sued anyone for slip and fall.