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Starbucks Recalls Product over Product Liability

May 20, 2019

This week, Starbucks corp. recalled co-branded French presses due to customer complaints, likely dodging possible product liability lawsuits. Had any consumer been injured using the products as intended and not for any other reason, however absurd, a strong legal suit could have been brought against Starbucks. One lawsuit could easily be settled relatively quietly; however, multiple suits would have created a media storm for Starbucks and their partner in manufacturing the French presses, Bodum Holding AG, damaging the brands’ identities and bottom lines. The interesting turn in this news is that Bodum is suing Starbucks for defamation, claiming that by recalling the, as Bodum claims, perfectly safe and functioning French presses, Bodum’s products now appear cheap and faulty. Let’s examine the story and how it may relate to residents looking for a Colorado Springs personal injury attorney in regards to a product liability claim.

A French press is a wonderful way to make a cup of coffee at home and is incredibly simple to use. Add ground coffee beans and hot water to the beaker of the press, add the lid with a plunger and rod connecting to a strainer attached in the middle and push down. Then you simply wait for the coffee to brew in the hot water before pouring. The issue consumers claim is that when pushing down on the plunger, it snapped at the top and resulted in cuts and puncture wounds in their hands. Considering the rod is made from metal and the beaker of glass, it’s easy to see how pushing down could lead to the aforementioned wounds. To avoid any additional liability suits, or facing legal repercussions as to why they didn’t recall these accessories sooner, Starbucks pulled the French presses and paid $20 per recalled unit.

Product liability boils down to a product being defective, regardless of a manufacturer’s intent, or the quality assurance and safety precautions that were ordered and followed from creation to use by a consumer. This defect in a product then caused an injury to the plaintiff. Products liability also covers items such as pets and houses; in this case, however, we will continue to focus on tangible items.

In almost every state, the plaintiff must prove the item in question has a defect and that:

  • a flaw in the initial design is dangerous and can/did cause harm

  • a flaw arose during production and manufacturing of the item

  • instructions and warnings of the product were neglected

With a legal team behind them advising, Starbucks recalled the French Presses. The interesting piece of the story, and one of the points of Bodum’s argument, is that Starbucks’ laboratories did not find any flaws, or defects, in the product in question. Bodum agrees. The company has sold its French presses in Starbucks stores since 2002. By recalling the product, Bodum claims that Starbucks has damaged the brand’s name and the act insinuates that Bodum’s French presses are inferior, flawed, and dangerous. Bodum requests that Starbucks pay all costs of the recall and pay for reputation damages to what is considered one of the best manufacturers of French presses globally.

Could this be an example of misuse by the customer? Out of the many French presses sold, there were only nine reports of broken plunger knobs. When making coffee, or tea, in a French press, sometimes, the grounds/leaves will cause resistance as users push down on the plunger. If a customer were met with this resistance, it is entirely likely that they could apply more pressure than recommended/necessary. From this unnecessary pressure, the knob could, theoretically, snap, which would result in complaints. Starbucks could use this argument – and extrapolating from the lawsuit for reputation damages, Bodum likely would have chosen this stance.

Starbucks has, however, dealt with personal injury and product liability suits before. They are well aware of the financial toll they can take on the company’s bottom line and how legal fees add up quickly in these cases. By pulling the product immediately in major territories with plans to expand to other global markets, they are avoiding a potential lawsuit nightmare. The legal battle they face over Bodum’s claims of reputation damage will be unpleasant, but Starbucks will be able to say that they prevented any harm coming to any more of their consumers, excluding those who brought suits over their puncture and laceration wounds.

As an aside, there are two tests that courts can use to find that the defendant is not liable for the product’s flaw and subsequent injury to the plaintiff: 1) If the utility of the product outweighs any risk, or harm, of a design flaw, or 2) if a customer finds the product defective when used in the expected, or intended, manner. Starbucks could have employed this argument, but it is likely best that they issued the recall to avoid failing these tests.

By recalling the product, despite Bodum’s wishes, Starbucks has dodged a press and media storm. If more people were injured by the French presses, many articles would come out railing against Starbucks and Bodum for negligence of safety testing their product. The two brands’ names would be in most papers and absolutely plastered across social media, causing backlash and further reputation damage. While Bodum’s concerns are noted, if a defect went unnoticed and more lawsuits appeared, they would be in much worse standing. In essence, it is likely for the best that Starbucks played better safe than sorry with their products. Only time, negotiation, and either litigation, or a settlement, will tell how the defamation lawsuit from Bodum to Starbucks plays out.

If you’re a Colorado Springs resident and you’ve been injured by a product, despite proper, or reasonable, use you may be entitled to compensation. Product liability is not an easy aspect of law to navigate, but the lawyers at Kinnaird Law are expert Colorado Springs personal injury attorneys. Call or visit us today to discuss your injury and story to find out what legal recourse is available to you. Personal injury due to product negligence cannot go ignored and we’re here to help defend you.