Hot coffee. Some would say it is just as much a part of our culture as baseball and apple pie. Every morning millions of Americans wake up and start their day with a good ole cup of Joe. Whether your daily ritual includes a fancy four-dollar Starbucks latte, or it is the smell of your own coffee pot that draws you out of bed in the morning—chances are that if you are like most people you like your coffee hot. Not lukewarm, but hot. (Otherwise you would have an iced coffee, I suppose.)
So why is it then that some people still insist on filing lawsuits over hot coffee? Is it a failure to warn? Of course not. Common sense tells us that hot coffee is hot. And for those coffee consumers who have no common sense, they’ve even started printing huge warning labels on to-go cups that say, “Caution: Contents hot!” Is it that hot coffee is an unreasonably dangerous product? Of course not. It is estimated that Americans consume more than 400 million cups of coffee per day, and in most instances, no one is ever harmed. So what’s with all the lawsuits? The answer is simple: money.
Back in 1994, a very crafty plaintiffs’ lawyer somehow convinced a New Mexico jury to penalize McDonald’s with a $3 million verdict for serving hot coffee hot. Today, more than 15 years later, this infamous case continues to inspire disgruntled fast food patrons apparently seeking to strike it rich in the lawsuit lottery.
The latest edition of these copycat lawsuits was filed by a Louisiana woman who claims that the coffee she purchased at a Burger King caused serious burns to her arms, chest and stomach. According to the plaintiff, Kathleen Perez, when the employee handed her a cup of coffee through the drive-through window, the lid fell off and the hot coffee spilled onto her.
Apparently the incident left Ms. Perez in extreme physical distress. Now she’s seeking an unspecified amount in damages for personal injuries, burns, permanent scarring and discoloration, pain and suffering, disability, embarrassment and mental anguish.
The suit has been assigned to a judge in Jefferson Parish, so we’ll have to wait and see how the courts interpret the facts of the case.
In the meantime, use extreme caution next time you reach for a good ole cup of Joe. Hot coffee is in fact, hot.
Melissa Landry is Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan citizen watchdog group dedicated to improving Louisiana’s legal climate.