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Man sues Starbucks over burns he suffered in a drive-thru

A lawsuit filed against the coffee giant and a packaging company claims scalding hot tea led to "disfigurement."
Tommy Piluyev is suing Starbucks and Pactiv Packaging Inc., a brand the lawsuit says made the coffee chain's cups and lids.
Tommy Piluyev is suing Starbucks and Pactiv Packaging Inc., a brand the lawsuit says made the coffee chain's cups and lids. Whitney Davis
/ Source: TODAY

Starbucks is facing a lawsuit from one customer who claims that a routine trip to the coffee chain's drive-thru resulted in painful burns that continue to affect him almost two years later.

In 2018, Tommy Piluyev and his wife stopped by the Roseville Starbucks in Northern California and ordered two Honey Citrus Mint Teas. When an employee at the pickup window began to hand the then 22-year-old the second sleeved/lidded cup, he says the lid came off.

“Hot tea spilled on Mr. Piluyev’s left hand during the transfer, the cup overturned on the window sill and hot tea poured onto Mr. Piluyev’s hands, stomach and pelvic area," the lawsuit reads. “Covered in scalding tea, and unable to open his door to escape because he was near the drive-thru window, Mr. Piluyev quickly put the SUV into gear and accelerated from the window. He pulled into an adjacent parking lot, hastily exited the vehicle stripped off his sweat pants.”

Shortly afterwards, Piluyev traveled to a nearby emergency room, where he learned that he had suffered “partial-thickness burns with blistering across the lower left abdomen, thighs, penis, scrotum, peritoneum and buttocks." He also experienced burns on nine fingers.

Piluyev's hand burns.
Piluyev's hand burns.Whitney Davis

Piluyev and his wife Liudmila Maftey are suing both Starbucks and Pactiv Packaging Inc., a brand the lawsuit says made the coffee chain's cups and lids, for product liability and negligence.

He suffered burns on several parts of his body.
He suffered burns on several parts of his body.Whitney Davis

According to the lawsuit which was filed on September 9, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Piluyev spent 11 days in the burn unit and "required intravenous pain control along with intensive and invasive wound care.” Piluyev's wife assisted him with wound and personal care when he was discharged from the burn unit and he began the recovery process.

"In the five months post-discharge Mr. Piluyev gradually regained the ability to walk, the ability to sense touch in some of his fingers, the ability to hold his young child, and eventually, to use a computer keyboard. Mr. Piluyev remained unable to play the piano," the lawsuit reads.

Piluyev in the hospital.
Piluyev in the hospital.Whitney Davis

The couple claims that the incident has affected their relationship, particularly their intimate bond. “The sensitivity and permanent skin discoloration and disfigurement of Mr. Piluyev’s genitals and inner thighs made eventual intimacy awkward and painful,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit seeks in excess of $75,000 in damages.

Whitney Davis, the couple's attorney, told TODAY Food that companies are responsible for remedying "known dangers to their staff and customers."

"Mr. Piluyev’s burns resulted from lid defects known to Starbucks management for several years. Spilling 180-200 degree tea on a customer is ordinarily an accident. However, when you know how many times per day it will occur at a drive-thru because your lid is defective, harm is not an accident, it is a certainty,” he wrote in an email.

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A spokesperson for Starbucks told TODAY via email that the company investigated Piluyev’s claim in 2018 and found the handoff to be successful. "…We are continuing to evaluate the claim and feel for the pain and suffering Mr. Piluyev experienced. Our partners take great pride in ensuring our beverages are crafted with care and are delivered to customers safely. We take our responsibility to provide a safe environment seriously and will continue to do so.”

This is hardly the first example of a customer lawsuit over scalding hot beverages. In April, the family of a child who got second and third-degree burns at a New Jersey Wawa store was awarded $3 million. There have also been several similar cases over the years, including the infamous 1994 McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit.

CORRECTION (Sept. 21, 2020, 9:42 a.m.): This story was updated to clarify remarks made by a Starbucks spokesperson. Starbucks investigated the claim in 2018 and found the handoff to be successful. The company said that it continues to evaluate the claim.