A Colorado woman has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming an employee improperly served a cup of hot tea at a drive-through window — causing the liquid to spill, severely burning her and ultimately killing her dog, who was also in the car at the time.
Deanna Salas-Solano is seeking more than $75,000 in damages from the global coffee chain, according to a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
The incident allegedly occurred in September 2015, when Salas-Solano visited the drive-through of a Denver Starbucks and ordered a “Venti”-size hot tea. She did not specify that she wanted her drink “extra hot,” the complaint states.
When a Starbucks employee handed the cup of tea to Salas-Solano at the pickup window, its lid was not secured, it lacked a hot-cup sleeve, and it was not “double-cupped,” according to the lawsuit. The complaint also alleges that the temperature of the tea was “unreasonably hot.”
“Once Plaintiff received the cup of tea into her hands, the hot temperature of the cup began to burn her hands,” the complaint states. “Hot tea began to spill out of the cup through the unsecured lid and onto Plaintiff’s body. The tea caused Plaintiff’s clothing to melt. The tea caused severe burns to Plaintiff. Plaintiff immediately experienced intense pain including on her stomach, legs, and lap.”
Salas-Solano began screaming and writhing in pain — at which point her dog, Alexander, jumped into her lap and caused tea to spill onto him, according to the complaint. The dog was taken to an emergency veterinarian, the filing states, and he died a little later from injuries caused by the hot tea.
Salas-Solano was taken to a hospital, where she was treated for severe burns and, the following day, underwent skin-graft surgery for “2% total body surface area second-degree burn injury to the abdomen and bilateral thighs,” according to the lawsuit. She has since reportedly suffered permanent scarring, loss of feeling and emotional distress, among other things, the suit states.
The filing additionally alleges that the store had received complaints related to improperly served hot beverages in the past.
“At all relevant times, Defendant knew or should have known, using reasonable care, that providing hot tea without a hot-cup sleeve, without securing the lid onto the cup, and/or utilizing unreasonably hot temperatures for the water used the make the tea, would create an unreasonable risk of injury to patrons ordering tea at the drive-thru at the Premises,” the complaint states.
A Starbucks spokesman said the company denies the allegations and has video evidence to prove that the coffee chain’s employee was not at fault.
“I think it goes without saying we’re certainly sympathetic to Ms. Salas-Solano and the injuries she sustained, and my heart goes out to her for the loss of her dog,” Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges told The Washington Post. “Having said that, we have video evidence that clearly contradicts the claims by her and actually believe they’re without merit. We don’t have any reason to believe that our partner [employee] was at fault in this.”
Sean Leventhal, an attorney for Salas-Solano, provided The Post with a copy of the complaint but declined to comment further on the lawsuit Wednesday.
This is not the first lawsuit filed against Starbucks related to injuries from a hot beverage. In May, a jury awarded $100,000 to a Florida woman who claimed she was severely burned and permanently scarred after a lid fell off a Venti-size Starbucks cup and spilled 190-degree coffee into her lap. During that trial, a Starbucks representative testified that the company receives 80 complaints per month related to lid leaks and lids popping off, according to the law firm Morgan & Morgan.
Starbucks has also been the target of several other recent lawsuits: A cafe in Brooklyn accused Starbucks of copy-catting its “unicorn latte” to create its popular limited-edition “Unicorn Frappuccino” this summer. Two weeks ago, Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the United States, sued the coffee chain in a bid to stop the premature closing of its Teavana stores, CNBC reported.
The latest complaint against Starbucks is reminiscent of a 1994 lawsuit filed against McDonald’s by Stella Liebeck, who suffered severe burns at age 79 after spilling hot coffee on herself in the drive-through of an Albuquerque branch of the fast-food chain. A jury awarded Liebeck more than $2 million in punitive damages, which a judge later reduced; Liebeck and McDonald’s ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount under $600,000. That well-known case later became the basis for “Hot Coffee,” a 2011 documentary that explores tort reform in the United States.