If you follow the storied history of hot coffee in product liability litigation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s decision to recall certain Keurig home coffee makers last week probably grabbed your attention. Certain reports have already surfaced (like this one from Forbes) attempting to compare this CPSC move to the infamous Stella Liebeck case and to use the recall as another example of hot coffee being an unreasonably dangerous product. Before making such comparisons, we need to take a better look at the substance of the CPSC’s decision.
According to the CPSC report, the Keurig MINI Plus Brewing System, model number K10, is being recalled after 90 burn-related injuries were reported. Here is the kicker: the burn injuries were not the result of people drinking or spilling hot coffee as was the case with Stella Liebeck but rather the result of hot liquid spewing out of the coffee maker during the brewing process. Nothing about this recall speaks to the Keurig’s brewing or serving temperature being too hot. Nor does this recall dispel the notion that people like their coffee to be served hot. Rather, the recall speaks for exactly what it says – people don’t like to get sprayed with hot water while their coffee is brewing.
We here at Abnormal Use understand the call to compare every bit of hot coffee-related news to the Liebeck case. In fact, we are guilty of doing it often ourselves. This CPSC recall and the corresponding reports is just another example of how a single cup of coffee served 20 years ago in a New Mexico McDonald’s has fundamentally altered how the general public perceives the beverage and our legal system. So, again, we appreciate the notion. Nonetheless, before we make these comparisons, let’s at least make sure we are comparing apples to apples.