Starbucks Sued In Spilled Tea Case That Left Woman With Burns And A Dead Dog

200px-Starbucks_Coffee_Logo.svgThe McDonald’s coffee cup case has become something of an urban legend as people continue to talk of the woman who supposedly made millions off the spilling of hot coffee.  The case is wildly misrepresented and Stella Liebeck, 79, only walked away with an award of $640,000 — after eight days in the hospital for skin grafts and two years of medical recovery treatment.  Starbucks is now facing a similar case, but the company is suggesting that Deanna Salas-Solano, 58, has misrepresented what actually occurred in a Denver drive through window.

downloadIn this case, Salas-Solano is arguing that she was not only severely burned but that the hot tea killed her dog.  She says that she was given a cup of hot tea without a protective sleeve.  She said that the lid was not on fully and that it spilled on her:  “Once Plaintiff received the cup of tea into her hands, the hot temperature of the cup began to burn her hands . . . Hot tea began to spill out of the cup through the unsecured lid and onto Plaintiff’s body.”

She says that her dog then jumped into her lap as the was “writhing and moaning in pain.” As a result, the tea poured on the dog.  After being taken to an animal hospital, the dog allegedly died from burns.  She also alleges that she suffered second degree burns that required skin grafts on her thighs and stomach.

Starbucks however has a videotape that it says “clearly contradicts the claims made by the plaintiff.”  Fox 31 Denver says that it saw the videotape and that the cup not only had what appears a sleeve but Salas-Solano is clearly speaking on a cellphone while jugging the driving, the dog, and the tea.

It shows Salas-Solano on her cellphone with her dog in her in her lap as she buys the tea.

The video also shows the hot tea did have a hot sleeve and it appears the lid was secure, though the video is not conclusive.

In the video, it’s hard to tell if Salas-Solano grabs the cup by the hot sleeve or by the lid when she accidentally spilled it.

It’s hard to determine if she spilled the tea because of the cup’s hot temperature or because she was distracted by her cellphone use or if perhaps her dog bumped into the cup while he stood in her lap.

Of course, she can certainly argue that such conduct is foreseeable in a drive through window and that the tea was clearly too hot when it can cause such burns with a spill.  She is seeking over $100,000 in damages.

36 thoughts on “Starbucks Sued In Spilled Tea Case That Left Woman With Burns And A Dead Dog”

  1. Just speculating, but hot tea might do a fair amount of damage to a purse dog. Was it the extent of the injury to the dog’s body or the extent of injury that healing him would’ve caused the woman’s pocketbook that resulted in it’s death?

  2. How sad about her dog.

    I would want more information. Did they prove that her little dog died of burns? Was the spill caught on camera, too?

    Tea or coffee to go contains freshly boiled water. It’s hot enough to burn. It would not have occurred to me that it would actually kill a dog.

    The consumer is supposed to know that hot tea is…hot. You don’t sip it right away unless you want to scald your lips. A drive through would not have sufficient time to let the tea cool the optimal 3 to 5 minutes, upon which one should remove the tea bags or the tea will become bitter. A consumer ordering tea has to have some knowledge of how to drink it. Namely, don’t spill any hot beverage on either yourself or your dog.

    Now, if lawsuits make companies afraid to serve hot beverages, then we are all going to have tepid tea so that no one gets hurt. That might happen with enough expensive law suits.

    “When tap water reaches 140º F, it can cause a third degree (full thickness) burn in just five seconds.
    Hot tap water accounts for 17% of all childhood scald hospitalizations.”

    Water boils at 212F/100C. If water as low as 140F can cause 3rd degree burns if the water stays puddled on the victim for 5 seconds, then there is no way that any restaurant can avoid customer burns. We either have to stop selling hot beverages, where coffee addicts are going to turn into The Walking Dead, or we have to have some expectation of responsibility. Perhaps drive throughs and to go establishments will have to post signs that say that spilling hot drinks can lead to burns, and to wait 3 minutes before trying.

    I don’t know if there is any way that they can make driving with hot beverages safer – a thicker sleeve, carrier, or what. That would be so interesting to see what inventors could come up with. But that does not negate some responsibility of the buyer that driving with a hot beverage is dangerous. Plus, if a spill happens on the road, it is unlikely that the driver will have cool water to immediately put on the burn.

    I remember I was in a hospital cafeteria, and distracted, when I got some hot tea. I didn’t see or think of the sleeve, poured the super nova boiling hot water over the tea bag in the to go cup, and started walking to the cash register. Halfway there I screeched and dropped it on the floor. I couldn’t even make it to lower it gently to keep it from spilling. Thank God it didn’t splash on anyone, because that would have been my fault and my guilt, not the hospital cafeteria’s. I’m the one who didn’t put the sleeve on the dang cup and who didn’t notice my hand was getting really hot. Same thing – she bought a hot beverage, and she spilled it.

    If this happened at the drive through window, are staff trained to respond to burns properly with first aid?

    The only way I could see the Starbucks being liable would be if they super heated the water above the normal temperature, they had defective cups where they cave in on the sides and the lid won’t stay on, or if they lacked sleeves or the sleeves were too thin. Other than that, even hot tap water can cause third degree burns.

  3. In the more advanced societies she would be receiving fines for operating a cell phone while driving, as well as paying Starbuck’s lawyers costs.

    1. “In the more advanced societies she would be receiving fines for operating a cell phone while driving, as well as paying Starbuck’s lawyers costs.”

      I wonder what is in Isaac’s mind, “more advanced societies”? Sounds like Issac is in a different world or on a different planet. He seems to have an over-active elitist mind where he feels the rest of American humanity is in the Neanderthal world.

          1. “Most of American humanity IS in the Neanderthal world.”

            Jay and anonymous speak for yourselves. Most Americans are good people, some are misguided and some support criminal behavior. A few on this list, and I think anonymous qualifies, support actions that are criminal. We can’t throw a person in jail for saying certain things, but we sure can send their friends, that are criminals, to jail.

      1. allan

        Back in the 60s and early 70s, I hitched around Canada and the US. Often I was picked up by guys in muscle cars with a cooler of beer in the back. In out of the heat, relaxing in a bucket seat, chugging a couple of beers, and shooting the breeze with the driver, it was heaven. Unfortunately you can’t filter out these pleasantries when you want to stop drunks from killing children and other innocents. The same is true with cell phones. Cell phone abuse now kills more people on the road than alcohol. And, yes the more advanced nations put it in the same category of offenses as drunk driving, where it belongs. Idiots continue to drive and text in the US because of some warped concept of what it means to be American, stupid. Times change and the more advanced peoples keep up and adapt. It’s called survival of the fittest, smartest, best. The biggest obstacle to evolving is pride in still having a tail.

        1. Issac, you sounded like one with an over-active elitist mind in the way you portrayed your gripe. Your gripe is real with regard to texting and driving, but that is not an excuse for the elitist mind that lives in a fictitious cloud raining on others. Sometimes your pseudo-eliteness in is more devolutionary than evolutionary.

  4. I don’t know how long she let the teabag simmer in the tea before she drank it, but the standard is to let the tea bag simmer for about 5 or 6 minutes both to let the tea cool down enough to drink it without scalding the skin off your esophagus, and to allow it to properly infuse the water.

    I am not sure if Starbucks gave the tea to her immediately after adding the water, or not.

    Part of the sophistication of drinking hot tea, is to allow the time for the whole affair to be done well, and not rushed thru like some yokel gulping down his cup of ice cold tea in 5 seconds flat or something, or some twerp slurping up his Icee sooo quickly he gets brain freeze.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. The English way to brew tea is to start with cold water, boil it, and let the tea leaves steep for only 3 to 5 minutes. Any more leads to bitterness.

  5. I suppose it’s possible that the lid wasn’t secured properly and the liquid spilled – I’ve had that happen to me. But I find the death of the dog hard to believe. I’d need to see a veterinarian’s report on the cause and effect.

  6. What evidence is there the dog dies as a result of injuries incurred from the hot tea?

  7. if she was talking on her cell phone while in control of this tea while driving I can see a case for contributory negligence.

      1. allan – actually a lot of people use their phone to pay for their Starbucks. I have always found Starbucks’ coffee too hot and have to let it cool for several minutes. Cup holders are a necessity.

      2. More recently, hot drink cases have often been thrown out when they rely on the temperature of the drink, as it is now widely recognized that customers expect the drinks to be served at a temperature which can cause bad burns if not handled carefully. However, liability has been found where the lid was not properly fastened, the cup/lid/wrap were defective, or the cup was handed to the customer without reasonable care.

        1. Apparently a video showed none of that and the woman was caught saying things that based on the video seem untrue. Therefore Richard: What negligence does Starbucks have?

          1. you can’t tell based on conflicting claims of the parties and inability to review the recording. According to the reporter, it is inconclusive as to whether the lid was properly fastened. If it weren’t, the failure to fasten it properly would be negligence by Starbucks as would any policies which would cause or encourage a lack of care in fastening the lid.

            1. Richard since you can’t tell there is no proof either way. Reputation then comes into play. The video disputes other things she says so why should she be believed

              1. A finder of fact may or may not agree with you. In recent years I have have observed that jurors seem far more willing to believe, or at least go along with, the testimony of someone who has demonstrably lied repeatedly than during the earlier years of my practice.

                1. Richard, as I have said before one can sue a ham sandwich and with some juries the ham sandwich might lose, so yes no matter how crazy the case there is always a chance the crazy case will win. We can’t run society based upon crazy cases. That is why businesses frequently settle for convenience when they have done no wrong. It permits them to concentrate on the more important stuff.

                  Sometimes people will get even and sue the lawyer and win.That helps even the score out a bit. But, if we as a society and as jurors choose to permit this type of lunacy then we as a society will pay the price.

                  1. Malicious prosecution cases against an attorney are almost unheard of in response to a negligence case. Where, as here, there is a colorable argument under the law, bringing one would, itself, be malicious prosecution. Even if the reporter’s analysis of the recording is correct, there is a dispute as to whether the lid was properly on at a minimum. An attorney is generally permitted to accept and act upon a client’s version of events unless that version is impossible under the laws of time and space.

                    1. Malicious prosecution is rare, but happens. I understand what you say, but for some groups it might be worthwhile to return the favor to the attorney such as in medical malpractice cases where the incidence is high. It makes other attorney’s think twice. I’ve had both pleasant and unpleasant run-ins with attornies regarding certain business affairs and have threatened suit paying the costs.

            2. Richard – I have gotten lids from Starbucks’ drive-thru that were not properly on. Since I know they super heat their coffee, I usually wait several minutes for it to start to cool. Still, I will end up ruining a shirt or pair of pants with hot coffee.

          2. allan – the event does not end at the drive-thru window as we know from the infamous coffee in the lap case of McDonald’s. You still have to drive off and if the lid is not secure you have a cup of boiling water in your hands waiting to spill on you and the dog.

            1. Paul, we are a very litigious society. That is why where I lived before we had a skateboard park until a child fell and the city was sued. Now the park is closed to skateboarding and the kids skateboard on the highway.

              1. Some of the lesser known governmental immunities applicable in some states can help deal with this type of problem. The Assumption of the Risk Doctrine used to, but it has been eaten away by the exceptions in many states.

  8. “Of course, she can certainly argue that such conduct is foreseeable in a drive through window”

    The leftist knee jerk answer is:
    1) Sue the corporate bast-rds so they go bankrupt
    2) Get rid of the risk and end drive through windows.

    Then some think a bit more and might recognize that not every injury is the fault of someone else.

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