How Personal Injury Lawyers Can Stop the Little Guy from Getting Crushed

Personal injury lawyers often get a bad rap. With nicknames such as “ambulance chaser,” they are the brunt of a lot of jokes, and the work they do isn’t always taken seriously. The public’s perception is that personal injury lawyers instigate frivolous lawsuits causing everyone’s insurance premiums to rise. However, these perceptions are not true, particularly when plaintiffs go up against huge corporations.

PersonalInjuryLawyers_080820140929For example, do you remember the infamous and equally misunderstood story about the woman who sued McDonald’s in 1994 for burns she got when she spilled her coffee?

Her name was Stella Liebeck, and she was 79 years old when it happened.

Even if you’ve heard of the story, I bet you don’t know the facts about the case. Because the press went wild with the story, many of the truths got lost along the way – the truth isn’t always the story people want to hear.

Some important facts about the Liebeck case against McDonald’s

Back in the 1990s, McDonald’s corporation made it mandatory that restaurants serve coffee at 180 -190 degrees Fahrenheit—even though this temperature can cause third degree burns in two to seven seconds! Other restaurants at the time brewed their coffee at lower degrees. Stella was not driving and was in the passenger seat—the car was stopped, they weren’t traveling—when she spilled her coffee in her lap. She suffered burns over 16% of her body, and 6% were third degree burns.

Before Stella’s claim there were over 700 burn claims filed against McDonald’s.

Stella asked McDonald’s for help with her medical bills (which you can imagine were quite high because of the seriousness of her burns), and they offered her $800. She wanted McDonald’s to turn down the temperature, but they refused. Her lawyer made attempts to settle before trial, but, again, McDonald’s refused.

Stella didn’t ask for the 2.7 million punitive damages that the jury awarded her—the jury came up with that sum by adding up how much money the franchise made in two days of coffee sales at $1.35 million per day.

The judge significantly lowered that amount.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Another example of a multi-million dollar corporation refusing to take responsibility until they were forced to is Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). You may be more familiar with the movie made about it called Erin Brokovich, featuring Julia Roberts.

In this situation, PG&E contaminated the groundwater of a town called Hinkley with hexavalent chromium for 14 years (from 1952 – 1966).

Hexavalent chromium is now a known carcinogen, meaning that it is a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

The hundreds of plaintiffs involved in the original law suit that spurred the movie suffered from various illnesses because of the contamination, such as Hysterectomies, ovarian cancer, bladder problems and throat problems.

It’s important to note that there is a lesson to be learned by these cases—that personal injury lawyers work for the people. They are defenders of justice and work for the little guy, especially when they’re going up against a huge corporation.

What would have happened in these two cases if the plaintiff’s didn’t have personal injury lawyers?

If personal injury attorneys weren’t around, who would stop corporations from doing whatever they want, not caring about anyone or anything?

Currently, there is significant legislation before Congress to protect corporations and careless doctors who injure people. Among other things, they’re trying to get the amount of damages awarded reduced when they screw up.

Large corporations and businesses can quickly turn into bullies when money is on the line, but this is what personal injury lawyers really do with their days. They make sure that people who are injured by someone else’s negligence are compensated, and they hold the injuring party accountable. They don’t care how big, or how much money the other side has. When they see a wrong they do whatever they can to make it right.