The couple who filed the suit had purchased the Java Chip Frappuccino for their two-year-old.
Photo via Flickr user Push Doctor
One Saturday in February 2016, Amanda and Louis Vice went to a Starbucks in San Bernardino, California with Louis’ mother, Rhonda Agles. They ordered a few items, one of them being a Java Chip Frappuccino the couple planned to feed to their then two-year-old daughter, Payton, who’d always had a sweet tooth.
One of the cups had a funky and metallic odor, with traces of red fluid smeared on its surface. The Frappuccino cup had a red stain, too, that the couple noticed only after their daughter had licked the lid and eaten some whipped cream from the cup. The substance appeared to be blood.
The family was able to determine that no one in the family was bleeding, so the substance must have come from another source. When they called up the Starbucks location where they ordered from, a store manager there confirmed that a barista had been bleeding that day but had since been ordered to stop making beverages.
The family is now suing Starbucks, representatives of Los Angeles-based Frish Law Group announced in a press release last Tuesday, citing the “emotional injuries” inflicted upon the family as a result of the coffee chain’s alleged screw-up. The family is seeking damages for fraud, negligence, emotional distress, battery, assault, and negligent hiring, among other offenses.
The family says that it has escalated this matter to court after trying and failing repeatedly to reason with Starbucks directly, arguing that it hasn’t received an adequate response from the company over the past two years. As initial recompense, the Starbucks location's store manager reportedly offered a week’s worth of free drinks to the family. Still, that wasn’t enough; free drinks couldn’t negate the possibility of these family members, particularly their infant daughter, contracting a disease from the blood.
The family demanded that the employee who had been injured get a blood test to determine whether she was HIV-positive. Though the manager verbally agreed to this, the suit alleges, the employee in question never got that test.
The family members also got tested in the immediate aftermath of the incident. It was a grueling period, the suit explains: For the Vices, watching heir two-year-old daughter getting poked with needles was particularly agonizing. Throughout the six-month dormancy period in which the family had to wait to get re-tested (it can take months for HIV antibodies to manifest), the family was stricken with “stress, nervousness, fright, anguish, grief, anxiety, worry, and shock.”
The tests eventually came out negative, and Starbucks subsequently offered $1,000 to each family member. These material offerings didn’t adequately reflect actual concern for the family’s wellbeing, though, the suit states, which is why the family has decided to sue.
A spokesperson for the Frish Group pointed to its press release and the full 19-page complaint when reached for further comment by MUNCHIES on Friday. “The family suffered emotional injuries because a beverage sold by Starbucks contained human blood, which is clearly a manufacturing defect,” Stan Pekler, the family attorney, said in the statement provided to MUNCHIES. “In addition, there was no warning directing consumers to examine their beverages for human blood prior to consumption. Therefore, Starbucks is strictly liable for their injuries.”
When reached by phone on Friday, Reggie Borges, Starbucks' Global Communications Manager, expressed some shock at the fact that the family decided to file a suit and that it had been accompanied by a press release. He had believed that Starbucks had worked closely with the family to address its concerns.
"We’ve obviously been surprised to learn about the lawsuit, and we’re probably even more surprised by the news release,” Borges told MUNCHIES. "We’ve been working with he family since the incident allegedly took place two years ago and they raised it to Starbucks at a local level all the way to right now. We’ve been working with them to try to better learn what took place and get to a resolution.”
Regardless, Borges firmly believes that now that the family’s legal team has filed suit, the corporation will be “fully ready to present our case in court."