Man Sues Starbucks Over Spilled Coffee, Says Burns Caused $10M of Damage to His Life

Matthew Kohr, a lieutenant with the Raleigh Police Department’s special operations division, had stopped into a Starbucks on Peace Street back in January 2012 to pick up a cup of free coffee. But what he came away with left him unable to return to the department for several months afterward.

Kohr has alleged in a lawsuit that he was served a coffee in a faulty cup that folded in on itself, which led to several third degree burns and blisters on his skin.

The spill also set off Kohr’s Crohn’s disease in a way it hadn’t acted up before. He alleges that the burns caused him to need surgery to remove a portion of his intestine.

Thanks to changes in health care reform, inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s aren’t necessarily considered pre-existing conditions for insurance purposes. As a result, health insurance rates aren’t determined like those for auto policies, which may charge drivers more if they are under 25 or over 70.

But Kohr doesn’t just have medical bills to contend with. He says that the event took two years out of his life as he struggled to get back to work.

“I had a lot of anxiety, a lot of unsteadiness and nervousness,” Kohr said. He told the jury that he wasn’t comfortable with being in the police car, which affected his role as a supervisor.

“You know, as a supervisor, in my experience as a police supervisor, you have to lead people and be confident,” he said. “And I didn’t feel those same feelings I had in the past.”

Kohr and his wife Melanie are seeking $750,000 in compensation from the coffee chain, but he says that the loss of time at work is worth much more than that.

Because his lawsuit is a civil one, he is only allowed to seek damages of up to $750,000. But he told the jury that the months of recovery and trauma are worth far more to him than that.

“We said, ‘Well, what’s our life worth? What’s a year and a half or two years of your life worth?'” Kohr said during his testimony on May 6. “I thought it was worth $10 million.”

Attorneys for Starbucks, meanwhile, claim that the onus is on Kohr, especially considering that getting free coffee while on the job was routine for the officer.

“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?” defense attorney Tricia Derr asked the court on May 5.

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