A Cup of Tea and Millions Three

November 8th, 2010 by

On February 19, 2008, Rachel Moltner, a 76 year old New Yorker, went into the Starbucks at 80th Street and York Avenue and ordered a “venti’-sized” tea. Her tea was served to her double-cupped and lidded. She took it back to a table and tried to remove the lid to add sugar. She had difficulty with the lid, and in the course of her attempts to pry it off, the tea spilled onto her left leg and foot. Moltner suffered severe enough burns to require a skin graft. To compound her woes, during her hospital stay she suffered from bed sores and a fractured sacrum and herniated discs caused by a fall out of bed.
Moltner sued Starbucks. In a follow up to the suit, Starbucks asked how much Moltner was seeking, to which she responded, “not more than $3 million.” (Even at Starbuck’s prices, that’s a lot of tea…)
The suit accused Starbucks of serving tea that was too hot and that the serving in a doubled cup was inherently dangerous. She also said Starbucks should have warned her the tea could spill.
The appeals court rejected her case, saying “double-cupping is a method well known in the industry as a way of preventing a cup of hot tea from burning one’s hand.” Hm. Mitigate one risk, expose another…
Moltner also lost a subsequent appeal, based upon Starbuck’s slow response to her initial suit.
Tea Time
David Jaroslawicz, a lawyer for Moltner, said Tuesday’s ruling probably ends his client’s case.
“The other side presented an old lady knocking over her tea,” he said. “The case was really about that Starbucks has a directive to employees that you should not double-cup because it changes the center of gravity and can cause the cup to tip over.”
Note to engineers: Does double cupping really change the center of gravity?
Note to risk managers: Double cup to spare the hand or single cup for steadiness?
Better yet, how about taking your afternoon cuppa in a big white reusable porcelain mug? Still risky, to be sure, but slowing down is the best way to prevent bad things from happening, and slowing down is what tea used to be about.

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