From the outside, many lawsuits appear frivolous. In the early 90s, there was a highly publicized lawsuit against McDonald’s. A woman named Stella Leibeck spilled some coffee in her lap and sued the company for her injuries. Instantly, the story became a sensation. Late night talk show hosts made fun of her in monologues, and political commentators angrily derided her on the news. The general belief across the nation was something like, “She poured coffee on herself, so why should the restaurant pay her for her injuries?”
A closer look at this case reveals a different story. Using this case as an example, we hope to help you think about your own injuries. If someone who spilled hot coffee on themselves deserves financial compensation, you may as well.
The Company Has a History of Bad Behavior
In 1992, McDonald’s had been consistently serving their coffee far hotter than the industry standard across their chains. They had already received several complaints about their product, and they had even settled with several customers out of court. This history was used against them in court. The plaintiff’s team argued that McDonald’s was aware that their coffee was causing harm.
Take this example, and apply it to your own injuries. Perhaps you were walking through a retail store and slipped on a puddle. Maybe this puddle was caused by a leaky pipe, and the store knew about it. It had been leaking for several months, and the management had done nothing to fix it. Furthermore, they did not put down warning signs, fully aware of the dangerous situation they were creating. In such a situation, a lawsuit is justified.
McDonald’s customers in 1992 had no reason to suspect that coffee could cause serious harm. Many reported having to leave their coffee unattended for over an hour just to be able to drink it. Stella Leibeck should have been more careful when adjusting her coffee lid, this much is true. However, she probably wouldn’t have had the coffee on her lap if she knew how dangerously hot it was. McDonald’s was guilty of giving their consumers a product that was far hotter than it should be, and they failed to provide sufficient warning.
Similarly, consider the puddle example from above. Walking through a video game store, electronics retailer, or bookseller, you probably aren’t on alert for puddles. You have a reasonable expectation that there will be clear, dry aisles with no danger of slipping.
Severity of Injury
In less than one minute, Leibeck suffered third-degree burns after spilling the coffee. She jumped out of the car and tried to disrobe, but the damage had been done. From a simple spill on her lap, Leibeck suffered permanent disfigurement, even after several surgeries.
When determining liability, courts are normally more interested in the details of an accident than the severity of the injury. For example, a pedestrian hit by a car could be held responsible for their own injuries, even if they suffered far greater harm than the driver. When determining compensation, however, severity of injury plays a major role.
When thinking about your own injuries, consider who is at fault. If someone’s negligence caused an injury that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred, you can be compensated. Now consider how badly you were harmed. If you suffered a great deal because of someone else’s behavior, you deserve justice.
Businesses have an obligation to protect their customers. Your only reason to enter their establishment is to support them financially. Even if you are just browsing, that helps their business. Browsers make mental notes of the products available and their prices, often returning later or recommending the store to a friend. The entire experience is tilted in the business’s favor.It is simply unfair of them to neglectfully put their customers, the source of their revenue, in danger.
It is also unfair of you to endure harm from someone else’s carelessness. First, you suffer from the immediate pain of injury and recovery. Then you suffer financially. Health insurance helps, but it is still costly. Often, you must pay a high deductible to receive treatment at all, and then you are spending money on co-pays and prescriptions. Sometimes, insurance doesn’t cover the entire bill, or they don’t cover a specific aspect of your treatment. You may also lose work or career opportunities due to your injuries. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that all this misery happened from an injury that is not your fault.
Premises liability and product defect lawsuits are not frivolous. They are simply a matter of fairness. You were harmed by someone else’s neglect, and you deserve financial justice.
If you’ve been hurt at a place of business, call our office today at (817) 591-4222. We offer free initial consultations, and we may be able to help you seek financial justice. You can also use our convenient online contact form.