A jury in North Carolina found Starbucks not liable for the injuries sustained by Lieutenant Matt Kohr, a Raleigh police officer, when he spilled hot coffee on his lap three years ago.
Kohr claimed that the lid of the coffee cup popped off, causing the hot beverage to spill over his legs and thighs and giving him third-degree burns, as well as blisters and emotional damage. He further alleged that the stress, in turn, aggravated his Crohn’s disease, necessitating surgery and the removal of part of his intestine. He and his wife sought damages of up to $750,000 from the company, as compensation for medical bills, legal fees, and damages.
The jury, however, ruled 10-2 that Starbucks was not at fault for his injuries, and that the company therefore did not owe him anything. Kohr and his wife declined to comment on the ruling, but their attorney has stated that they are disappointed with the decision. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Starbucks has stated that the company is pleased with the ruling, asserting that, “we believe our partners (employees) did nothing wrong. The safety of our customers and partners will continue to be our top priority”.
The lawsuit drew parallels to a 1994 case in which a New Mexico woman spilled hot coffee on her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald’s restaurant, causing her to sustain severe burns. In that case, however, the New Mexico jury ruled in favour of the plaintiff, awarding her $2.86 million for her injuries. The lawsuit drew considerable media attention and debate, bringing the issue of tort reform to the forefront of legal debates at the time.