Bitter brews and legal stews: Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Buffalo Wild Wings face off against bitter lawsuits

Bitter brews and legal stews: Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Buffalo Wild Wings face off against bitter lawsuits

If you've missed our previous explorations into frivolous lawsuits surrounding fast food and plaintiffs who play fast and loose with the law, you're in luck. In today’s article, we've got some interesting cases you can sink your teeth into. While this brief list may not feature a dispute as notorious as the infamous McDonald’s coffee case (which, let's be clear, was far from frivolous), coffee-serving establishments still manage to find their way into the legal limelight. One case involves a giant in the coffee industry, but fear not — their "crime" this time doesn’t involve scalding hot coffee.

Not all heroes wear capes — some wear barista aprons

Seattle-born coffee chain Starbucks often finds itself under scrutiny for reported misdemeanors, many of which are far from humorous. The list of their legal troubles appears endless, ranging from questionable claims of using “100% ethically sourced” coffee to the absence of actual açaí in their Strawberry Açaí Lemonade Refresher. It seems the coffee giant just can't catch a break.

In January 2024, the company somehow managed to become the subject of a lawsuit that, while not laugh-out-loud funny, is at least deserving of a chuckle. Twenty-year-old Starbucks barista Michael Harris was working the drive-thru shift when two armed robbers entered the store. Initially willing to comply with the robbers' demand to open the cash register, Harris had a change of heart when he discovered that one of the men's guns was fake. He chose to fight back.

Due to Mr. Harris’ heroics, one of the robbers was restrained and subsequently apprehended. But rather than rewarding him with a commendation, Starbucks management chose to terminate Mr. Harris. According to them, the appropriate course of action was to comply and de-escalate to ensure the safety of both the baristas and customers.

In response, Mr. Harris filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful termination. And we can't say we're surprised by his decision.

Caution: Hot coffee ahead

Adding to the list of fast-food chains that have found themselves in legal hot water for serving excessively hot coffee is Dunkin’. In February 2021, a 70-year-old woman from Atlanta suffered from second- and third-degree burns after a cup of hot coffee spilled on her body, courtesy of an unsecured coffee lid. The true culprit: the Dunkin' employee who failed to secure the lid onto the cup.

This unfortunate incident resulted in the woman needing extensive skin grafts and accumulating medical bills totaling more than $200. Subsequently, she filed a lawsuit against the franchisee that owns the Dunkin’ in Atlanta. In November 2023, they settled the lawsuit by awarding her $3 million.

According to the woman’s lawyers, her injuries were so severe that she had to relearn how to walk and had to "entirely alter the way she lives her life." Burns from hot drinks can indeed be life-altering, as many similar cases have shown.

This personal injury lawsuit (and others like it) could have been avoided if coffee shops and donut chains ensured their employees undergo an intense, extensive boot camp that covers securing coffee lids and teaching how to make and serve coffee without causing burns to tongues, groins, or legs. It would be a worthwhile investment and might just save you from hefty legal fees.

The Buffalo wings lawsuit that shouldn’t fly in court

Buffalo Wild Wings could learn a thing or two about consumer fraud cases from Starbucks, specifically how to avoid them.

In March 2023, Chicago man Aimen Halim filed suit against the restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings for serving him wingless chicken wings. Per his complaint, the Buffalo wings were shaped like wings but weren’t actually wings. An even more tragic realization for him was that they were essentially chicken nuggets and weren’t even deboned chicken wings. His lawyers claimed that he suffered from “financial injury” because of the restaurant’s deceptive marketing.

We live in a society where people can be adamant about their right to have all the essentials in their Buffalo wings: Buffalo sauce and boned wings. While many customers see the value in not having to chew off the meat in chicken wings, some wings aficionados would very much like to eat meat off actual chicken wings.

No one actually suffers from eating chicken nuggets disguised as chicken wings. As for restaurants that serve Buffalo chicken wings, you could avoid facing a legal case like this one if you simply renamed your products or updated your menu. A rebrand is much less costly than dealing with a lawsuit.

Whether you’ve been victimized by a chicken wing or a scorching hot cup of coffee, LaGrandeur, & Williams are the personal injury lawyers you need to call. If you need legal representation for your case in Washington State, call us or leave us a message .