one man's ceiling
Monday, November 20, 2006
  starbucks, hot cocoa, idiots
i'm putting on the asbestos suit for this one, just in case someone reads this and wants to use a flamethrower. here we have an incident similar to the hot-coffee-at-mcdonalds-burned-my-crotch story, only this time its starbucks, and it's a kid.

first, so no one thinks i'm a babyeater or anything, kids getting burned is horrible. though you'd never know it to look at me, 60% of my own body was second-degree burned when i was toddler and decided to pull an electric coffee pot down on my backside. i was lucky and was well taken care of and i have almost no visible scars to speak of.

i used to joke that as a result of that early experience with coffee i grew to hate the stuff. the truth is i love the flavor but my stomach can't handle the tannic acids and so i never acquired the java jones. but i love a good chocolate, and a hot cup of chocolate is always welcome to these lips.

ah, but then there's that whole problem i have with dairy. no fear, there's soy milk! oh, what a joy, milk from the bean of the soy!

add it all up and you get a semi-lactose intolerant dude who prefers cocoa over coffee. a perfect customer for starbucks soy hot chocolate.

here's the thing: for the last, oh, seven years or so i've had problems getting my soy hot cocoa. it isn't the soy that's the issue, nor the cocoa, no-no, it's getting a drink that actually qualifies as warm enough to call tepid, much less "hot". it became especially noticable when i moved from west to east coast where it seems the very idea of soy is like a beacon telling the baristas yo, here's another left coastie! customers in line look at me like i've just ordered my beverage be infused with flakes of titanium so that my poop sparkles. must have something to do with the fact that dairy-friendly vermont is next door and massachusians eat more ice cream per capita than any other state, but i digress.

i used to actually complain and have my cocoa sent back for reheating. i even wrote to corporate to complain because i found the problem was consistent all over the downtown area. corporate's answer was for me to give them a phone number so they could call and apologize to me personally. no thanks, just sell me what you advertise: HOT chocolate.

[super-aside: i'm deliberately ordering a non-dairy drink, why do they always offer me whipped cream? "we have to," one barista admitted, "or else we get in trouble." huh.]

so now i'm onto this story where a kid in a car seat is scalded by a hot cocoa from starbucks. let me say this, when you do get a drink that's too hot you know the minute you pick up the cup. anything hot enough to scald skin cannot be held in a paper cup without a protective sleeve. it will even gather enough steam in those plastic sippy lids that the lid is too hot. so how does a parent put one of these molten lava drinks into the hands of a kid?

i'm picturing a drive-thru window, drinks being handed over in a cardboard tray. a mother hands the drink back to her child, carefully holding it by the rim so as not to burn herself? so the kid can grab the cup? she has to be holding it along that insulated edge because that's the only way i can think that she cannot feel the heat of the drink. a drink so incredibly hot that it scalds the child's skin through it's clothes. she couldn't have done what i've seen countless other parents do -- test to make sure it wasn't too hot -- otherwise this story makes no sense.

starbucks policy is that kids drinks are cooler than regular coffee drinks, but policy or no mistakes happen. i'm sure the barista in question who made the drink has long since lost their job, whether they did overheat the drink or not. but is that really the problem here?

burn studies have shown that kids will suffer greater burn injuries, typically from scalding liquids, and at much lower temperatures than an adult would. i've read where hot tap water -- around 100 degrees -- when spilled on a fabric like fleece will both hold and retain the heat of the liquid in question to the point where it becomes like a forced exposure burn. add this all together and you get the conditions where a mild-hot liquid (to adults) can become a scalding hot liquid to a kid.

indianapolis in november can be cold. you might want to bundle a kid up in that weather, take them for a drive to starbucks for a hot cocoa. a sudden jerk out of the drive-thru window, kid spills the drink, clothes insulate the heat, kid gets scalded. these aren't necessarily the facts in the case, just a possibility.

my parents never sued the maker of the electric coffee pot for my accident. they recognized that the error was not in the manufacture of the pot itself, nor did they abdicate responsibility because there was no warning on the package indicating serious burn injury from curious toddlers. you see, my parents were of a generation that took responsibility for their own actions. at 18 months they knew i could toddle my way into all kinds of trouble and should have taken the precautions to prevent me from taking a coffee shower, but they didn't, and the medical bills (and the anxiety of burning their child) was warning enough for me and my eventual siblings.

when i was growing up we didn't have car seats giving us a false sense of security in the car. we didn't even have seatbelts in the first car my parents owned -- that hadn't become law yet. and my parents would never have given us a hot beverage in the car without the expectation that they would get spilled -- because, hey, we were kids! -- so they had to be cool enough to withstand wearing.

parents need to stop acting like idiots so they can set better examples for future generations. these parents who are suing starbucks for a cocoa drink that scalded their child need to include the car seat manufacturer for not including a stabilizing drink holder; they need to sue the clothing manufacturer for not including a large warning explaining how their fabrics might contribute to the scalding of a child with hot liquid spilled on them; they need to sue the car manufacturer for not building a car that prevents and deters accidents by not allowing the car to turn or accelerate in a manner that could lead to injury.

and they need to sue their own parents for not instilling common sense into their children before allowing them to procreate.

i have a lot of problems with starbucks, but if i were to be empaneled on a jury for this case they'd have to excuse me. starbucks gets my support here.
I completely agree with you. I was working on this negotiation based on an actual exercise where a parent sued a mechanic for not checking his brakes (which were out of line and contributed to an accident killing his 6 yr old son). The problem turned out that it was a psychological response: they wanted validation that it was not their fault that their child died even though (1) he took off the seatbelt, (2) the father was speeding; (3) the father had been driving the car for two days after taking it to the mechanic (long enough to tell if the brakes veered). But the parents were horrified that they did something to hurt their child. An expert witness said that this is a common response. Guilt and fear of public perception so shifting the blame. The parents wanted, more than anything, for the mechanic to "take the blame."

And this is where I could offend - I find that to be no excuse. Guilt is a part of life and can be quite helpful. Parents should not feed their children scalding drinks. They should sip them first. And probably not let a tot hold a hot bev in a car. It's just commone sense.
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