Don’t Cry Over Spilled Coffee—Starbucks Sure Isn’t

An update on the lawsuit filed against Starbucks over spilled coffee

Photo by Marco Paköeningrat (Flickr)

A case that attracted national attention went to trial earlier this month.  The case involves a Raleigh police officer who sued Starbucks for $50,000 in damages and $700,000 for pain and suffering from injuries sustained from a coffee received at the Raleigh Peace Street location in January of 2012.  Lt. Matthew Kohr’s lawsuit against the coffee chain was heard in Wake County Superior Court with the Honorable Judge Donald Stephens presiding.

“We think Mr. Kohr should leave here with a full refund of what he paid.”

Kohr’s attorney, Daniel Johnson, argued that Starbucks handed his client an unsafe cup, bigger than he ordered, without a sleeve, in violation of its own safety policy, with the consequence being serious burns to Kohr’s body.  During the course of the trial, Kohr’s attorney focused not only on the severe burns from the incident but also on the deterioration of Kohr’s mental health subsequent to the incident.  “Starbucks delivered a cup of coffee that robbed Matt Kohr of control of his life” stated Johnson.  Kohr claimed the lid on his coffee cup popped off and collapsed, which caused the hot coffee to spill on him.  He claims that the incident caused him severe burns and blisters, and that the event was emotionally draining on him and his family.  He also asserted that the incident activated his Crohn’s disease and that surgery was required to remove his intestine.  Finally, Kohr’s attorney also emphasized other customers’ complaints to Starbucks nationwide over popped lid accidents such as a hot tea lawsuit out of New York in 2010.

Starbucks attorneys presented a very different view of the incident.  The coffee chain’s attorneys argued that the injuries were not the result of corporate or employee negligence, but instead they were the result of Kohr’s own negligence.  Starbucks attorney Tricia Derr emphasized the fact that Kohr drove to his home first to take pictures of his injuries before he sought medical treatment.  Kohr confirmed this on the stand, by testifying that he drove to the police garage to get his truck and then went home where he had his wife take pictures of the burns.  Derr also emphasized that it wasn’t until more than two hours after the incident that Kohr went to an urgent care center and that Kohr had received the coffee for free as a perk for working in law enforcement.  In closing arguments, Derr stated, “We think Mr. Kohr should leave here with a full refund of what he paid.”

In the end, the jury sided with Starbucks, finding the company not liable for the injuries sustained by Kohr.  

Jurors reported an 11-1 deadlock to Judge Stephens on Friday, May 8th, but both parties agreed to accept a non-unanimous verdict.  In the end, the jury sided with Starbucks, finding the company not liable for the injuries sustained by Kohr.  Starbucks made a brief statement after the verdict was announced, stating, “[t]he safety of our customers and partners will continue to be our top priority.”  Kohr also made a statement following the jury’s verdict saying, “I really appreciate the jury’s time, doing their civic duty, and helping us with our dispute.  We thank everybody for the support and we’re looking forward to moving on and putting this behind us and moving forward.”

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About Olivia Bouffard, Staff Writer (12 Articles)
Olivia Bouffard is a 2016 graduate and served as a Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She graduated from UNC-Wilmington with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2013. Following her first year of law school, Olivia participated in a study abroad program at Cambridge University. During the Fall 2014 semester she interned with Judge Stanford L. Steelman, Jr. at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Olivia worked with the Department of Public Instruction as a legal intern with the State Board of Education during the summer before her third year.