Some people make unfair assumptions about plaintiffs in personal injury cases. Our society isn’t always kind to injury victims. Many assume people who have been hurt are simply greedy or out to make a quick buck.
West Palm Beach injury lawyers know this is untrue, but it’s not always easy to convince others. One personal injury case involving a woman who suffered burns from a McDonald’s coffee was widely disparaged as a so-called “frivolous lawsuit”. Once you know the real story, however, you realize just how serious her injuries were.
Chances are, you have heard about the case of a woman who ordered a coffee in the McDonald’s drive-thru and subsequently suffered burns when the coffee spilled in her lap. A jury awarded her almost $3 million in punitive damages.
It seems like an outrageous amount of money, right? Shouldn’t adults realize coffee is meant to be served hot?
What few people know is that the victim, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, was not even in the driver’s seat. She was actually a passenger in the car, nor was she careless when she removed the coffee cup’s lid to add cream and sugar to her drink.
When Mrs. Liebeck removed the coffee cup’s lid, the liquid spilled all over her thighs and soaked into her sweatpants. At the time, it was McDonald’s corporate policy to serve coffee at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees.
At such high temperatures, liquid can cause third degree burns – the worst type of burns – within three to seven seconds. Third-degree burns go right through the dermis to the deep tissues of the skin.
This is exactly what happened to Mrs. Liebeck, whose burns were so severe, she went into shock and nearly died in the hospital. She sustained burns on six percent of her body, and her injuries required skin grafts and surgery. She also required two years of ongoing medical attention while she recovered from her burn injuries.
Mrs. Liebeck’s case received a great deal of media attention – mostly because people heard the initial damages award of $3 million and immediately decided it was an outrageous amount for spilled coffee.
What’s interesting is that Mrs. Liebeck didn’t actually sue McDonald’s at first. When she initially wrote the fast food giant, requesting it pay for her medical bills, McDonald’s offered her $800 – a far cry from the $10,000 hospital bill alone.
She eventually filed a personal injury lawsuit. During the course of the trial, her lawyers exposed just how many people had been seriously injured by the scorching hot coffee.
McDonald’s had received more than 700 complaints about its coffee but did nothing to revise its policies.
The jury awarded Mrs. Liebeck $200,000 in damages, plus another $2.7 million in punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants for negligent behavior and deter them and others from acting negligently in the future.
The media seized on this number, even though the judge ultimately reduced the jury’s punitive damages award to a mere $480,000. McDonald’s also appealed the case, which eventually settled out of court.
The McDonald’s hot coffee case is just one example of big corporations failing to take reasonable steps to make their products safer. The images of Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries are horrific. Anyone viewing them will quickly realize the devastating nature of her injuries.
If you have been injured, you need to know your case is important. It’s not frivolous, and you are not being greedy. You deserve compensation for your injuries.
Talk to a West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer about your case.
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