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Common Sense and Delicious Tater Tots Prevail in Hot Coffee Case

Yesterday we reported on the suit filed by the family of a kid who claimed to have been injured by hot sauce that was too hot at a Tennessee Steak 'N Shake. In coming up with other examples of suits against restaurant chains for food-related injuries and distress, I purposefully omitted the most well-known variety: the hot coffee case.

This genre of legal nonsense was pioneered by Stella Liebeck and her attorneys back in 1992, and, much to the chagrin of thinking people everywhere, lives on to this day. So I was thrilled this morning to see that at least one federal judge faced with such a suit didn't surrender his brain to the marshals on the way into the courthouse.

Point of Law pointed me to the Abnormal Use blog's writeup of a decision granting summary judgment to Sonic restaurants in a hot coffee case out of Louisiana. While it's hard not to sympathize with anyone whose "groin area" was severely burned by hot coffee, it's also hard to take seriously his claims that he was surprised by the fact that the coffee was hot.

Creativity points, though, are definitely in order for plaintiffs counsel's attempt to rebut the testimony of the defense's coffee temperature expert (which phrase, to me at least, evokes an image of weatherman Ollie Williams saying, "It's HOT!"). They had the plaintiff, Gerald Colbert, swear out an affidavit, based on his having taken chemistry in high school, that because there was steam coming out of his cup of coffee, and steam is produced when water boils, and water boils at 212 degrees, his coffee must have been at least 212 degrees at the time he dumped it in his lap.

As Abnormal Use points out, litigating the case to summary judgment may well have cost Sonic more than offering up a settlement early on, but sometimes it really is the principle of the thing. Next time, Gerald, may I suggest one of Sonic's delicious Route 44 Cherry Limeades?

Posted by Eric Lipman on October 19, 2010 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)


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