The Top 4 Product Liability Cases
July 23, 2014 @ 10:03 am
Product liability law is a complex area that everyone seems to have an opinion on. While it is important to keep the dialogue going and the public aware of what’s going on with the products that they use, many people are misinformed about the details of the more shocking cases that make it to the headlines. You may have heard of some of these lawsuits: now get the facts on how they played out.
The grandaddy of them all: the notorious hot coffee case that spawned a thousand late-night talk show quips at its glorification of “frivolous lawsuit” culture. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: the plaintiff, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, suffered excruciating third-degree burns across her lower body from the coffee she ordered from McDonald’s, incurring thousands of dollars in medical fees. When she attempted to recoup these fees, the jury heard testimony that McDonald’s was knowingly serving the coffee at dangerously high temperatures and decided to award her 2.7 million dollars in punitive damages — which were then lowered to just $480,000. Far from being another “the lady spilled coffee and became a millionaire” punchline, this sad case has a reputation that is almost the exact opposite of the problem it illustrates.
In the early 1970’s, Ford Motor Company manufactured a small, cheap automobile that was exclusively for getting from Point A to Point B. While this car became wildly popular due to its affordability, it was soon revealed that problems with its engine design (specifically placement of the gas tank) made it a severe fire hazard. In this landmark case, the 1972 model became engulfed in flames after a rear-end collision, causing the death of the driver and the severe disfigurement of the 13-year-old passenger Richard Grimshaw. The subsequent lawsuit established that Ford was aware of the design flaw and proceeded with manufacturing the model anyway. Grimshaw was awarded $126 million dollars in compensatory damages, and Ford eventually discontinued the Pinto line after a wave of negative publicity.
Over the course of 2011, gas can manufacturer Blitz was hit with over 40 lawsuits alleging that fault industrial design caused the cans to explode when around an open flame. At an average of $4 million per claim and countless hours of legal work, the maker of the ubiquitous red can shuttered its doors in mid-2012. Plaintiffs alleged that when used to start a fire, the flame would siphon up into the can and cause serious injuries. A mesh device would have prevented the issue, but made the product approximately $.50 more expensive to manufacture.
Sacramento Kings player Francisco Garcia was using a Ledraplastic balancing ball while lifting dumbbells when the ball burst and he fell to the floor. The weights crushed his forearm, causing a fracture that disqualified him from completing the first four months of his contract with the Kings. Eventually, the Kings and Garcia were able to recoup both salary costs and damages in a settlement of undisclosed quantity, and the company publicly acknowledged the danger of using the equipment with weights.