Posted on Aug 16, 2006
Starbucks owes big bucks
in java scalding lawsuit
BY BARBARA ROSS and LEO STANDORA
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
A BAD EXPERIENCE at Starbucks turned into big bucks - 301,000 of them - for a Manhattan lawyer who got a painful hotfoot when a steaming cup of coffee toppled onto her at the java palace.
"I jumped back and looked down," Alice Griffin, 42, testified. "My foot was steaming, and the puddle was steaming."
The jury's April verdict was upheld yesterday by Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman - even though the jurist said she was "inclined to agree" the $301,000 that Griffin won at trial "was excessive."
But in upholding the jury finding, Goodman rejected Starbucks' contention the evidence failed to support the verdict.
"Defendant's instant argument that this could have happened some other way at some other place is simply idle speculation by the losing party," she said.
Griffin of the East Village got hurt when she stopped at the Starbucks on Seventh Ave. and 49th St. on her way to work Feb. 10, 2004, and ordered a large decaf.
She testified the clerk slid the sleeveless cup toward her, but it tipped off the edge, losing its top and fell on her foot - leaving her in agony.
Griffin testified the sneakers, socks and stockings she was wearing trapped the hot coffee on her skin.
She said the clerk said nothing - and simply gave her another cup of coffee.
Griffin's lawyer, Barney Anderson, said the clerk violated Starbucks' rules that require coffee cups to have sleeves and securely fastened lids, and that they never be handed to customers or slid on counters.
"It was kind of a perfect storm," that caused the decaf dump on Griffin, he said.
Griffin told the court the coffee caused second-degree burns and permanent nerve damage to the top of her foot.
She said she still suffers pain when she puts her foot in anything too hot or cold and can only wear certain kinds of shoes.
Starbucks said in a statement while it "regrets" any injury to Griffin, "we do not believe we are responsible for her injury and we intend to appeal the jury verdict if the parties are unable to resolve their differences through posttrial proceedings."
Griffin's case recalls the classic hot coffee lawsuit filed by Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old New Mexico woman who went to court after a cup of McDonald's java dropped in her lap.
In what was widely branded a frivolous lawsuit, Liebeck won a $2.9 million damage award that later was reduced to $640,000.
As a result of the Liebeck case, McDonald's began warning customers about high temperatures of its coffee, which was being served at 180 to 190 degrees.
Experts say coffee is best consumed at 140 to 160 degrees.