In addition to helping individual victims of personal injury accidents, injury lawsuits help society stay safe by holding wrongdoers accountable.
Sometimes, injury lawsuits prompt important changes that improve the quality of life for all of society. Additionally, personal injury lawyers help ensure that injured parties get the justice and compensation they deserve after an accident. Here are ten personal injury lawsuits that changed everything.
1. Harris v. McGraw
On his talk show, psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw encourages people to “get real.” But perhaps McGraw should have been listening to his own advice when he invited friend Janet Harris to visit. McGraw’s dog bit Harris leaving her with significant injuries.
Instead of encouraging Harris to seek medical treatment, McGraw was more concerned about avoiding bad press. He convinced Harris not to get the help she needed, and her dog bite injuries got worse. Harris eventually settled out of court with McGraw for an undisclosed amount. Dr. Phil, How’s that working for you?
2. Escola v. Coca-Cola
Bottles of “The Real Thing” aren’t supposed to explode. One California waitress found that out the hard way when a bottle of Coca Cola exploded in her hands. The waitress suffered cuts and nerve damage.
Coca Cola tried to defend against the lawsuit by saying that the company wasn’t in control of the bottle when it exploded. But the jury didn’t buy it. The jury found that the product defect occurred when Coca Cola made the bottle and awarded the injured waitress compensation. An appeals court later affirmed the jury’s decision.
3. Liebeck v. Mcdonald’s Restaurant
Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from McDonald’s. Instead of a refreshing cup of joe, McDonald’s delivered third-degree burns and a whole lot of pain and suffering. Liebeck put the coffee in between her legs and the coffee spilled. Scalding hot coffee quickly burned her legs causing severe damage and requiring surgery.
An investigation revealed that McDonald’s knew that the coffee it served was too hot to be safe. The jury found that McDonald’s should have reasonably assumed that drive-through customers would have coffee in their cars where it could spill. The McDonald’s case reinforced that, while McDonald’s may have billions and billions served, they need to ensure that their food is safe for customers. One thing is for sure, Stella Liebeck definitely wasn’t Lovin’ It.
4. Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company
Oh, the Ford Pinto. It was in production from 1970-1980, and now it’s a part of U.S. tort history folklore. Maybe you owned one and lived to tell the tale.
In crash tests, Ford Motor Company discovered that gas tanks almost always ruptured in rear-end collisions. Rather than spend approximately $8 per vehicle to fix the problem, Ford decided just to settle the lawsuits instead. There were hundreds of burn deaths resulting from crashes that occurred at relatively low speeds. Ford paid $3.5 million in punitive damages and eventually recalled the Pinto. The vehicle took its rightful place in the American Museum of Tort Law, and pintos went back to being only a tasty type of bean.
5. Anderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric
Also known as the Erin Brockovich case, the Anderson case held the Pacific Gas & Electric company accountable for knowingly dumping contaminated groundwater near the town of Hinkley, California. Obviously at fault for their actions, the company settled the case for $333 million. The payment represented the largest settlement of a direct-action lawsuit in the history of the United States. The town of Hinkley eventually became a ghost town.
The case gained notoriety because of Brokovich’s dedication and instrumental work in pursuing the litigation. Despite not being a lawyer, Brokovich skillfully helped the legal team build the case and seek justice on behalf of victims. Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Brockovich in the 2000 movie based on the true story. Brockovich showed us that not all superheroes wear capes.
6. Donoghue v. Stevenson
While the Donoghue v. Stevenson case is a 1932 English case, it still changed American tort law. A woman drank nearly an entire ginger beer before noticing a dead snail in the bottom of the beer. The woman became very sick after drinking the snail juice – er, beer.
The company selling the beer tried to defend the case on the grounds that the woman didn’t originally purchase the beer. However, the courts ruled that the beer company had a duty of care to protect the ultimate consumer. The case set the groundwork for all product manufacturers to have a duty of care to the people who consume their products.
After lengthy court proceedings, Ms. Donaghue received justice for the illness she suffered because of the snail in her beer. It’s true what they say — sometimes litigation moves at a snail’s pace.
7. United States v. Philip Morris
Even Uncle Sam had enough of the tobacco companies misleading the public about the risks of smoking. In addition to thousands of individual lawsuits, the United States Department of Justice Officials brought a case against Philip Morris under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
A court found that the tobacco company engaged in a 50-year scheme to defraud the public. Because of the litigation, the tobacco companies must avoid false advertising and discourage tobacco use among children.
8. McCarrell v. Hoffmann La Roche Inc
Accutane was once a controversial treatment for severe acne. Andrew McCarrell took the medication. Although it cleared up his acne, it also caused irritable bowel syndrome and intense stomach pain. McCarrell and many other victims suffered, and eventually, manufacturer Roche Laboratories pulled the drug from the market, leaving a blemish on the pharmaceutical industry.
9. Aleor v. SLB Toys USA Inc
Ready for a day of fun, 29-year old Robin Aleo slid down an inflatable slide towards a pool. The slide collapsed, and Aleo hit her head suffering fatal injuries. Toys “R” Us sold the inflatable pool despite the fact that the pool failed to comply with government regulations for product sales in the United States. A jury found Toys “R” Us liable for damages including negligence and punitive damages. So much for wanting to be a Toys “R” Us kid.
10. Eramo v. Rolling Stone
When a University of Virginia college student reported a gang rape on campus, Rolling Stone jumped on the story. Rolling Stone reported that the Dean of Students didn’t do enough to protect the victim and respond to the complaint. Eventually, witnesses discredited the woman’s story. The Dean of Students and a fraternity sued the Rolling Stone who paid millions in damages to the victims for negligently printing the false story.
Famous Personal Injury Cases Matter
Lawsuits make our lives better. They require people and companies to act reasonably and carefully for the benefit of others in society. Personal injury attorneys play an important role in helping protect victims and make society safer. These ten famous personal injury cases changed everything.