North Carolina cop spills free coffee, sues Starbucks for $50,000

A North Carolina police officer sued Starbucks after spilling hot coffee on himself. In the trial, he said that he drove home to take pictures of the injury before getting treatment. 

(AP Photo/Traci Carl)
A Starbucks store closes Friday, April 24, 2015, in Phoenix because of computer issues. Starbucks says a sales register computer glitch has disrupted sales at company-operated stores in the United States and Canada. The company apologized to customers for the inconvenience late Friday and said it was working to resolve the outage. Customers found some stores closed and others offering free coffee.

After severely burning himself with a free cup of Starbucks coffee, a North Carolina police officer suing the coffee chain says he waited hours and got photos before seeking medical care.

Raleigh police officer Matthew Kohr told jurors Wednesday he drove home to have the injury photographed before he went to an urgent care facility, the News & Observer reports.

Kohr testified that he left Starbucks in his police car, got his truck from the police garage, drove home and had his wife take pictures of the third-degree burns on his inner thigh.

Not until more than two hours after the incident did Kohr go to an urgent care center, Starbucks attorney Tricia Derr emphasized.

"You didn't go the emergency room," Derr said. "You didn't go to urgent care. You went to get your truck."

Kohr says the lid popped off his coffee –€” free to officers in uniform –€” and the cup collapsed in his lap during the 2012 incident. He said he was not thinking about pursuing legal action at the time.

"Lawsuit never crossed my mind that day," he said. "Did it later? Yes."

Kohr claims the incident caused such severe stress it activated his Crohn's disease, which required surgery to remove part of his intestine.

An attorney representing Starbucks argued in her opening statement Tuesday that Kohr was negligent, and said his pre-existing condition caused his problems.

Kohr is suing the coffee chain for between $50,000 and $750,000.

The case reminds some of the McDonald's hot coffee case of 1994, aka Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, which became a flashpoint in the debate in the US over tort reform. As The Christian Science Monitor reported:

The infamous McDonald's hot-coffee case, a lawsuit that has become something of a poster child for people who want to reform the nation's civil justice system, reflected a warning message, say experts. When a jury awarded $2.9 million to a woman who suffered serious burns after spilling scalding coffee in her lap (the award was later reduced by a judge), it was reacting in part to the fact that McDonald's had received complaints about serving coffee that was too hot, and hadn't responded.

The award amount was reached by determining the amount of money McDonald's made in profits on coffee sold during a two-day period. "The huge damages were to make [McDonald's] listen," Ms. Forell says.

Legal experts say that mega-tort suits are also becoming a way to determine blame and responsibility in public-policy areas where state and national legislators have acted slowly or failed to act at all.

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