Rachel Moltner, age 76, stopped in at a Starbucks on the upper east side of Manhattan one winter’s day in 2008 for a hot beverage. Her barista poured her a venti-sized, 190-degrees Fahrenheit cup of tea, double-cupped it, and put on a lid. Ms. Moltner went to a table and was wrestling the lid off in order to add sugar, when she spilled the tea onto her leg and foot. From there, things really went downhill. Ms. Moltner required a skin graft to repair the burns to her leg and, during her stay in the hospital, she developed bed sores and then fell out of bed, fracturing her sacrum and herniating a disc or two.
With visions of Stella Liebeck’s 1992 hot coffee lawsuit against McDonald’s no doubt in mind, Ms. Moltner sued Starbucks. She filed suit in state court in New York but Starbucks removed the case to federal court. The federal judge who reviewed the case dismissed it, saying that “no reasonable fact finder could conclude that the tea’s 190 F temperature took plaintiff by surprise.”