A free cup of hot Starbucks coffee might cost the company $50,000 if a jury sides with the Raleigh police officer who spilled it on himself.
But attorneys for Starbucks argue that each cup comes with an "extremely hot" warning on the cup. They also pointed out that of the more than 4 billion cups served each year, fewer than 60 such claims have been made.
Matthew Kohr, the Raleigh lieutenant who filed the suit against the company, contends he has suffered physical and emotional damage related to injuries that occurred after the lid popped off the cup of coffee he ordered in January 2012 from the Peace Street Starbucks near the Glenwood Avenue intersection.
Kohr said he was burned and blistered after the cup collapsed in on itself. The pain grew greater, he has said, even after he poured cold water on himself.
Kohr contends the incident caused him such severe stress that he had a flareup of the Crohn's disease he suffers from and had to have surgery to remove a part of his intestine because of that.
Additionally, Kohr and his wife Melanie say they have suffered from a loss of intimacy because of the injuries from what he described as "a defective cup."
Initially, two baristas and the paper cup company were named on the lawsuit, but they have been dropped and the corporation is the only one still facing accusations.
On Tuesday, attorneys presented opening statements in Wake County Superior Court in a trial that could bring discussions about when a company that offers something free is subject to warranty claims.
It also could raise questions about how much responsibility an individual has when traveling with a hot cup of coffee.
"How does someone who knows their coffee is hot, who has had 50 cups of free coffee in the last two months, how does that person spill their coffee?" asked Tricia Derr, the attorney representing the company.
Judge Donald Stephens, who is presiding over the trial, raised questions before lawyers began selecting jurors about whether such warranty claims could be brought against Starbucks if the coffee was given to the officer.
Kohr contends he was required to be in uniform to receive the coffee and that constituted the agreement. He is seeking at least $50,000 for medical costs, attorneys fees and emotional and physical damages.