Starbucks 'Hot Tea' Lawsuit Highlights a Void in Personal Responsibility

The SE Texas Record May 18, 2010, 6:36am


By Court Koenning

It's hard to believe that the now-infamous "hot coffee" lawsuit against McDonald's happened 16 years ago.

Yet that case's multi-million dollar settlement apparently left a lasting impression - and planted an idea – with a New York woman now suing Starbucks over a cup of hot tea that allegedly caused her "great physical pain and mental anguish."

This is the type of lawsuit that raises real concerns about the impact of a sue-happy society. Clearly, far too many engage in the blame game and are ready and willing to play the lawsuit lottery and burden our courts with questionable cases, no matter the consequences to the rest of us.

The media – and the courts – are full of examples of "blame game" lawsuits:

  • Three teenagers tried to sue a well-known fast food chain after they gained weight from eating there nearly everyday.

    They claimed not to have known that a diet nearly solely of fat-laden hamburgers and French fries would cause them to pack on the pounds.

  • An admitted alcoholic went on a two-day bender at resort and spa. While intoxicated, he fell 100 feet over a stairway then sued the hotel for serving an addict and causing his injuries.

  • A Connecticut woman sued a cosmetics company alleging that the company ruined her social life when she accidentally dyed her hair brunette with one of its products.

    The woman said she can never return to her natural blonde hue, a shock that left her so traumatized she needed an anti-depressant and had to stay home and wear hats most of the time.

    These actual lawsuits, and hundreds of others like them, hit all of us in our pocketbooks. It costs money to defend a lawsuit, even ones without merit, and businesses must incorporate their legal costs into the prices of products and services consumers buy.

    Taxpayers also are paying for the court time eaten up by these cases. A recent study shows the U.S. tort system cost The U.S. tort system cost $254.7 billion in 2008, which translates to $838 every man, woman and child in our country.

    How do these "blame game" lawsuits get into our justice system? They are hardly discouraged by some personal injury lawyers, who stand to pocket hefty contingency fees of one-third or more of any settlement or award.

    In fact, some lawyers actively solicit such lawsuits, enticing would-be plaintiffs with the lure of a huge payoff. Judges do have authority to dismiss lawsuits they believe have no merit, but not enough of them exercise this power.

    The fact that these types of cases persist decade after decade tells us that our society has abandoned all sense of personal responsibility and replaced it with a warped sense of entitlement.

    The 'somebody's gotta pay' attitude is pervasive and that does not bode well for future generations.

    We need to reacquaint ourselves with personal responsibility and stop playing the blame game.

    We need to realize that every dilemma or personal disappointment is not fodder for a lawsuit and does not warrant a treasure trove of cash.

    Court Koenning is president of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Houston.

    Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is a nonprofit, grassroots movement dedicated to making the public better aware of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse. With local chapters across the state, CALA counts count more than 25,000 supporters among its ranks.

    For more information, please visit

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