Articles Posted in Damages

A Colorado woman has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming that an employee improperly served her a cup of hot tea at a drive-through window, which caused the tea to spill, severely burning her and killing her dog, who was in the care at the time.

The plaintiff, Deanna Salas-Solano, is seeking more than $75,000 in damages from the coffee company, according to the complaint her lawyers filed in the US District Court for the District of Colorado. The incident occurred in September of 2015, when Salas-Solano visited the drive-through window of a Denver Starbucks and ordered a Venti hot tea. According to her complaint, she did not specify that she wanted her drink extra hot. When the Starbucks employee hander her the cup of tea, its lid was not secured, it lacked a hot-cup sleeve, and it was not double-cupped, which is Starbucks’s standard procedure for serving hot tea. The complaint also alleges that the beverage was unreasonably hot. Once she took the cup of tea into her hands, the hot temperature began to burn them, the complaint states. Hot tea then began to spill out of the cup through the unsecured lid and onto her body, which caused her clothing to melt. The tea caused severe burns to Salas-Solano, which caused her to experience intense pain on her stomach, legs, and lap.

Possibly the most disturbing aspect of the incident concerns the plaintiff’s dog. When Salas-Solano began to scream and writhe in pain after the tea spilled, her dog, Alexander, jumped into her lap and caused the rest of the tea to spill onto his body. The dog was then taken to an emergency veterinarian, and died shortly after form injuries caused by the hot tea. Salas-Solano was also taken to a hospital, where she was treated for severe burns and, the following day, underwent skin-graft surgery for “2% total body surface area second-degree burn injury to the abdomen and bilateral thighs,” according to the lawsuit. She has since reportedly suffered permanent scarring, loss of feeling and emotional distress, among other things, the suit states.

Damages in a personal injury lawsuit are designed to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he has suffered and to put him the same position he was in before the accident occurred. Some types of damages are objective and easily calculated, such as medical expenses and lost wages. But pure economic damages are often not enough to make the plaintiff whole again. After all, he has just undergone a traumatic ordeal and suffered injuries that are not as easily quantifiable as medical bills and lost wages. This is where non-economic damages come into play. Non-economic damages are the abstract damages a plaintiff suffers during and after an accident, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.

These types of damages are a little trickier to calculate.

Measuring Pain and Suffering

You’ve probably heard of punitive damages before, most likely through a high-profile verdict against a defendant who is seen by the public as having deep pockets. Punitive damages are controversial because the purpose of a civil action is to compensate the plaintiff, not to punish the defendant. Punishment of defendants is usually reserved for the criminal courts. However, punitive damages are intended to do just that–to punish the defendant when their behavior has been particularly vicious by awarding the plaintiff monetary awards that are greater than the amount necessary purely for compensation.

To understand how punitive damages work, we’ll need to take a quick look at how damages are awarded in a civil lawsuit.

Compensatory Damages

In most personal injury lawsuits, the reason why the plaintiff was injured usually boils down to negligence. Negligence requires a showing of a duty owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. In most cases, the duty owed is that of a “reasonably prudent person.” When the defendant’s conduct falls below that standard, he or she has breached this duty. Once the plaintiff establishes that his or her injuries were caused by this breach, a case of negligence has been established.

The compensation the plaintiff receives—known as “damages” in legal parlance—is the amount of money necessary to compensate the victim for the injury and to make him whole, as if the accident had never happened. However, this classic conception of negligence assumes that the defendant was totally at fault for the accident and that the plaintiff was blameless. What happens if the plaintiff was also partially at fault for the accident? In these cases, the courts developed the legal doctrines of contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

Contributory Negligence

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