A jury in Jacksonville, Florida awarded Joanne Mogavero $100,000 after a cup of hot coffee spilled on her at a drive-through at the River City Marketplace Starbucks in July 2014.
Facts Of The Case
According to Joanne Mogavero’s lawsuit, a Starbucks’ employee handed a 20-ounce cup of coffee at the drive-through and the lid popped off shortly thereafter spilling hot coffee on her mid-section. The lawsuit alleged that the temperature of the coffee was 190 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot coffee burn left injuries to her stomach, thighs, and groin, including permanent scarring.
Prior to going to trial, Starbucks had moved to dismiss saying that Starbucks was not responsible because Ms. Mogavero was holding the cup at the time it spilled. The judge denied Starbucks’ motion to dismiss.
At trial, the jury found Starbucks 80 percent responsible for the spilled coffee.
Theory Of Legal Liability
It is important to take notice that this lawsuit did not allege that the coffee served was too hot. Instead, the allegation in the lawsuit was that the cups used were prone to popping up because they compress the cup. If a customer’s fingers grab the cup near the lid (as opposed to nearer to the middle or bottom), then the lid is more likely to come off and cause a spill.
Public Misunderstanding And Prejudice
As a personal injury attorney, the issue of hot coffee comes up in many conversations with clients and seems to come up in jury selection every time I go to trial. This is one of those hot button legal issues that people like to talk about but seldom truly understand.
While it is well known that coffee is best served hot, this case and the more well-known case against McDonalds involving Stella Liebeck are clearly different even though the both involve burns from hot coffee. Ms. Liebeck’s case is the case that ignited the tort reform firestorm and caught attention from Seinfeld, David Letterman, and even U.S. presidents. Advocates of tort reform used the case to argue that the civil justice was being abused by frivolous lawsuits calling it “jackpot justice.”
What many people don’t know about Ms. Liebeck’s case (you should watch the HBO documentary on it, click here from HBO or here from Youtube), is that Ms. Liebeck initially only sought to have her medical bills paid for by McDonalds. Eventually, she went through extensive medical treatment for third degree burns on her body, including private areas. Later on in the case, the plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award the profits from a single day of the sales of coffee at McDonalds for punitive damages because McDonalds had instructed its franchisees to raise the temperature of the coffee to avoid complaints for cold coffee. Ms. Liebeck eventually signed a confidentiality agreement after several appeals but those not bound by confidentiality agreements say that she did not receive very much money for her case after all was said and done.
This case against Starbucks, however, is completely different. Ms. Mogavero’s case is one of simple common law negligence. We all have a common law duty to act reasonably under the circumstances. This legal duty extends everywhere you go and to everything that you do. Likewise, when an employee puts a lid on a coffee cup and hands it to someone, the employee should determine that the lid is properly secured before handing it off. This is a lot like making sure a folding knife is closed before you hand it to someone else. If the blade is exposed, then the person you hand the knife to might get cut.
Rather than hot coffee, it could have been any product that has the potential to cause harm or injury to another. It might be easy to judge others when they suffer an injury from a mundane object, however, as humans beings we should all be sensitive to each other and use the “golden rule” (treat others as you would like to be treated yourself).
Frivolous lawsuits are no laughing matter to the people who suffer life changing injuries. If you believe that a lawsuit is frivolous, then you should try to trade places with the injured person for one day to walk a day of their life in their shoes. This is the only way to know what they have been through. Unfortunately, the law does not allow attorneys to tell the jurors to do that or even to infer that they should in reaching their verdict. However, as human nature goes, that is the only way we can understand.
Contact A Personal Injury Attorney In Lakeland, Florida
If you have a personal injury that was preventable, then you may have a valid personal injury claim and should talk to a personal injury attorney in Lakeland, Florida. You should not be embarrassed of the situation because other people might get hurt if you do not bring attention to the issue. If you have a valid case, we will make your claim and hopefully some positive change will be made in response. Contact us today for your free appointment.