Category Archives: Product Liability

Cell Phone Manufacturers Walk a Fine Line between Social and Personal Responsibility – Car accident lawyers

 Cell Phone Manufacturers Walk a Fine Line between Social and Personal Responsibility – Car Accident Lawyers Ward & Ward Law Firm

Pressure is being put on cell phone manufacturers to include “lock-out” technology in their mobile devices to prevent drivers from accessing certain features while driving. Who bears the responsibility for car accident injuries and fatalities caused by distracted drivers? What are the options parents can employ to keep their children safe when driving?

 The product liability case against Apple – a result of a catastrophic car accident

Several years ago, on a summer day in East Texas, 21 year old Ashley Kubiak caused a catastrophic car accident while driving her pickup and checking for messages on her iPhone. The collision left a boy of seven who loved playing team baseball, a paraplegic. The young boy, Sammy Lane Meador, was told by physicians he would never walk again as his spine had snapped in the collision. His grandmother and great aunt perished in the accident. The families of the accident victims joined together to bring a product liability case against Apple, entitled Meador, et al vs. Apple, Inc.

Discovery revealed…

Personal injury lawyers, Don and Charlie WardDuring the discovery process it was revealed that in 2008 Apple had petitioned for and later received a technology patent called “Driver Handheld Computing Device Lock-Out.” In the documentation submitted to the patent office, a description of the technology read, “a lock-out mechanism to prevent operation of one or more functions of handheld computing devices by drivers when operating vehicles.”

The plaintiffs argue that while Apple was fully aware their phones would be used for text messaging while driving, and even used this reasoning in their patent application, Apple did nothing to prevent Ms. Kubiak, an iPhone consumer, from illegally texting behind the wheel. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue Apple has a moral obligation to society to employ the patented technology in their cell phones. Plaintiffs’ attorney, Greg Love, states “When companies are faced with the choice of doing the right thing or doing the cheaper thing, they tend to do the cheaper thing until they’re forced to do the right thing.”

In 2014, Apple received the patent which uses sensors to determine if the phone is moving and in use by a driver, and employs the lock-out features for such functions as sending and receiving texts, email, social media posts and notifications. However, since 2014 (the year Apple was granted the patent), the company has distributed the iPhone 5s, 5c, 6, 6+, 7, 7+ and a number of IOS software updates. Yet, the technology has never been deployed. Nor has any other cell phone manufacturer incorporated the technology into their phones.

Car accident lawyers are disturbed by this survey

Distracted driving includes any behavior that takes your attention away from the operation of the vehicle. In 2015, Erie Insurance conducted an online survey consisting of 2,019 respondents 18 years and older. Their motive? To learn the kind of distracted behaviors their clients had engaged while driving their vehicle. You won’t believe what respondents admitted to:

  • Styling hair (15%)
  • Romantic interlude (15%)
  • Changing clothes (9%)
  • Changing drivers (3%)
  • Taking selfies (4%)
  • Flossing / brushing teeth (4%)
  • Going to the bathroom (3%)
  • Texting while driving (30%)

Disturbing statistics, all! But note that nearly 1/3 of adults taking this survey admitted to texting while driving. This is especially alarming because text messaging behind the wheel diverts four primary modalities necessary for a focused driving experience:

  • Vision
  • Auditory
  • Cognitive thinking, reasoning skills
  • Manual/tactile cell phone use

In 2014, three thousand one hundred seventy nine teen  fatalities in the U.S. were caused by drivers who momentarily diverted their attention from the safe operation of their motor vehicle; 3,179 needless fatalities – 6,358 grieving parents, in addition to siblings, grandparents and other grievous kin.

Texting fatalities have surpassed fatalities caused by alcohol

Between 2011, when no state bans existed for texting, and 2013, after 14 states passed legislation banning texting while driving, texting rates declined from 43% to 30%. Today, 46 continental states have banned text messaging for all drivers. But in reviewing data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, approximately 1 in 3 teens readily admits to texting behind the wheel. And while fatalities resulting from drunk driving have decreased, teen deaths attributed to texting while driving have surpassed teen fatalities caused by drinking and driving.

Did you know?

  • On average, the amount of time eyes are off the road when texting is 5 seconds
  • The distance covered in 5 seconds at 55 mph is the length of a football field

One in three teens admits to texting and driving

Understanding the myths that fuel texting and driving

Myth No. 1 – The fear of missing out (FOMO)

In 2016, FOMO, an acronym for “the fear of missing out,” was ushered into the Merriam-Webster dictionary along with other words and acronyms implying social disconnect such as nomophobia (fear of being without a cell phone) and ICYMI (in case you missed it.) FOMO demonstrates an anxiety of epidemic proportions that keeps smart phone users continuously checking their phone for messages, news, announcements, tweets or feeds. The underlying principle of FOMO hints that the current moment in time is never good enough and can always be improved by hooking up with friends, making an announcement on Twitter, posting a response to Facebook, uploading a photo of your present activity, announcing your location or commenting on developments. The fear of missing out is a compulsive and addictive behavioral response.

In an interview with media, Jack Walker, attorney for the plaintiffs in the above-mentioned case, echoed scientific findings when he stated a person’s response to a cell phone notification is a “neurobiological response from the brain, it basically triggers the pleasure centers of the brain with a shot of dopamine… people do it so frequently, they don’t even realize it’s happening.”

Myth No. 2 – Multi-tasking

How many times have you heard someone say, I’m multi-tasking? This meme endorses the lie that self-esteem and social worthiness are awarded to those who can split tasks and perform double the work in half the time. In fact, multi-tasking is the antagonist of deep intellectual thinking. The belief that we can focus our attention on multiple, simultaneous tasks, each involving conscious control — is fiction. Our brains are not wired to focus intently on multiple concurrent thoughts. What we typically call multi-tasking actually involves a cerebral interruption and restart between tasks. Best selling author, Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant states “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time.”

From an article published in The Scientific American: “Some commonplace activities, such as driving and talking on a cell phone frequently go hand-in-hand, but the brain is likely switching its main focus quickly between the two activities, perhaps a reason the pairing has been so dangerous.”

Personal responsibility v social responsibility – The motion to dismiss the product liability lawsuit

In 2015, Apple filed a motion to dismiss the product liability claim. Defendant Apple stated in court documents that it was not the iPhone that caused the accident but the lack of personal responsibility shown by Ms. Kubiak. Apple further claims, eating while driving would encourage future product liability suits against fast food manufacturers as a result of plaintiffs’ argument. The Federal judge assigned to the case signed a recommendation to dismiss the case. The recommendation states in part: “…Apple’s failure to configure the iPhone to automatically disable did nothing more than create the condition that made Plaintiffs’ injuries possible.” Nevertheless, the case is still pending in United States District Court.

At this time, there isn’t a cell phone manufacturer or mobile service provider that wants to market the first mobile phone that clamps down on distracted driving behaviors. Similar to change through legislation, modifications in the free market are slowly evolving and will require pressure from consumers, special interest groups and the success of product liability lawsuits brought against cell phone manufacturers going forward.

Apps for restoring peace of mind

Following is a short list of Apps that may help curb the temptation to initiate, read and respond to text messages and social network posts and notifications. They are in no particular order; what works for one family, may not be effective for another. Browse through the apps to determine what works best to protect you and your family or try them all until you find the app that suits your lifestyle. Most apps are available for download at Google Play for Android devices or the App store for iPhones. I have noted when the applications are downloadable from the developer’s website.

AT&T DriveMode (Free)
Available for IPhone and Android devices. Full features are available to AT&T Mobile customers; limited features for all other users.

  • Turns on when the vehicle is moving
  • Access music and navigation with one touch
  • Silences text message alerts
  • Automatically replies to text messages

Parents are alerted if:

  • AT&T DriveMode is turned off
  • Auto-Mode is disabled
  • New speed-dial number is added

Life Saver – Distracted Driving (Free)
Available for IPhone and Android devices. Optional rewards based technology. Sponsor sets guidelines and monitors behavior. App is endorsed by a number of safe driving organizations.

  • Blocks phone use while driving
  • gets driver’s last known location
  • Safe arrival notifications
  • Can share with others
Video – How Life Saver works
Video – Life Saver screen – is it user friendly?

True Motion Family (Formerly The Canary Project – Free)
Available for IPhone and Android. Score based, includes location sharing and roadside assistance.

Wonder (Available at developer website)
The message center displays either a “driving” or “safe to text” icon next to each person’s name.

Drive Beehive (Free)
Available for IPhone and Android devices. Rewards safe driving miles; requires a sponsor.

Experienced car accident lawyers and wrongful death attorneys

Our experienced car accident lawyers and wrongful death attorneys use their knowledge of the law, legislation and judicial opinions to employ strategies that maximize our clients’ financial recovery after they have experienced a life-altering accident or event caused by another person or entity. If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident, injured by the negligence of a medical professional, or the victim of nursing home neglect or wrongful death, call personal injury attorney, Charlie Ward, today at (317) 639-9501 for a free consultation.

Charlie Ward
Personal Injury Attorney
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225
(317) 639-9501
cpw@wardlawfirm.com

Indiana Legislation Relating to Asbestos and Mesothelioma Claims Declared Unconstitutional

asbestos product liability lawsuits in indiana

Victims of latent asbestos related diseases have reason for hope after Indiana’s State Supreme Court Ruling

asbestos product liability lawsuits in indianaWhat is a product liability claim?

A product liability claim seeks to hold miners, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others along the commerce and distribution chain, responsible for the personal injury and wrongful death caused by dangerous and defective products, including, but not limited to asbestos-related injuries. Read Indiana’s Product Liability Act (IPLA).

Plaintiffs seek relief in lawsuit involving latent Mesothelioma diagnoses

Both plaintiffs were exposed to materials containing asbestos during their employment. One plaintiff, an electrician, was exposed for approximately 40 years and diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma 15 years after leaving his employment. The other plaintiff was employed by an electric utility company where he worked on and around asbestos-containing products for 15 years; he was diagnosed with mesothelioma nearly 37 years after terminating his employment.  Both defendants filed separate suits naming multiple defendants. When the cases were brought before the Indiana State Supreme Court, they argued that the following provisions in Article 1 (The Bill of Rights) of the Indiana Constitution had been violated:

Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution, commonly referred to as Rights to Remedy states:

All courts shall be open; and every person, for injury done to him in his person, property, or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law. Justice shall be administered freely, and without purchase; completely, and without denial; speedily, and without delay.

Section 23 of the constitution, commonly referred to as the Equal Privilege and Immunity Clause, states:

The General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.

The argument and the ruling

Two sections (Section 1 and Section 2) in Chapter 3 of the Indiana Products Liability Act (IPLA) are at the center of the instant case.

Section 2, written by the Indiana General Assembly specifically for those with asbestos-related injuries , limits actions to those brought against persons or entities who both mined and sold commercial asbestos. Since plaintiffs sought damages from defendants who neither sold nor mined raw asbestos, they were barred from recovering damages under Section 2 and were therefore subject to the limits expressed in Section 1 of the IPLA.

Section 1 of the Indiana Product Liability Act, imposes a 10-year statute of repose upon persons exposed to dangerous and defective products. The Statute of Repose, as it is commonly called, states the product liability action must be commenced within ten years after the delivery of the product to the initial user or consumer. Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma is a disease which sometimes manifests many years after initial exposure to asbestos. Both plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos products and both developed asbestos-related diseases over a protracted period of time, greater than the 10-year statute of repose provided for in Section 1 of the IPLA.

In March of 2016 in a 3-2 split decision, the Indiana State Supreme Court, joining 3 appeals under one ruling, looked primarily at the Equal Privilege and Immunity Clause and held Section 2 of the IPLA created an impermissible disparity between classes of plaintiffs (those with claims against defendants who both mined and sold raw asbestos, and those with claims against defendants that sold asbestos-containing products) which violated Section 23 of the Indiana State Constitution, the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Indiana Constitution. And since Section 2 of the IPLA contained special verbiage which voided the entire section if any part of the section was held invalid, all of Section 2 was deemed unconstitutional. It was further decided that the ten-year statute of repose contained in Section 1 of the Indiana Product Liability Act did not apply to claims arising out of long-term exposure to products containing asbestos. Justice Brent Dickson wrote the opinion for the majority; Chief Justice Rush and Justice Massa wrote the dissenting opinions.

Petition for Re-Hearing

Shortly after the cases were decided, defendants submitted a petition to the court requesting a re-hearing. But in a 3-2 split, on April 28, 2016, a re-hearing was denied.

Indiana Product Liability Lawyers with Experience

Don and Charlie Ward, of Ward & Ward Law Firm in Indianapolis, have more than 86 combined years successfully litigating cases against corporations both large and small for bringing dangerous products into the marketplace that may harm individuals.

Our experienced personal injury lawyers and wrongful death lawyers use their knowledge of the law, legislation and judicial opinions to employ strategies that maximize our clients’ financial recovery after they have experienced a life-altering accident or event caused by another person or entity. If you or someone you know has been injured by an unsafe product, involved in an accident, injured by the negligence of a medical professional, or were the victim of nursing home neglect or wrongful death, call personal injury attorney, Charlie Ward, today at (317) 639-9501 or toll free at 1 (888) 639-9501 for a free consultation.

Charlie Ward

Ward & Ward Law Firm
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225
317-639-9501 or  toll free at 1 (888) 639-9501
Published 09/24/2016

 

Auto Recall Legislation|Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer’s View Point

Indianapolis Product Recall  Personal InjuryVehicle manufacturers have a duty to report safety issues by law.   The legislation is known as Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation–TREAD.

Over a decade ago, there were  several hundred deaths and many individuals seriously injured as a result of defective tires made by Firestone on Ford Explorers.  In 2001, Congress took action and passed TREAD to require vehicle manufacturers to report safety issues in a timely manner.  The goal of the legislation to require auto manufacturers to report defects, not to hide them.  Once reported the National Highway Safety Administration can issue recalls, impose fines and potentially order criminal charges.Call Charlie Ward at 317-639-9501

However, many argue the legislation is failing due to time delays (sometimes several years).   In the past few years delayed actions resulted in many deaths and serious injuries as a result of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles (several years ago), ignition switch issues in General Motors vehicles (past 2 years) and now with airbags involving the Japanese company Takata.   Facts uncovered in Toyota’s sudden acceleration and GM’s ignition switch showed the manufacturer’s knowledge of the defects many years before any action was taken.  The Federal Government is currently investigating Honda on whether Honda failed to timely report deaths and injuries caused by defective airbags.

The end result–delays in recalling vehicles leads to unnecessary deaths and serious injuries.

Personal Injury Attorney,

Charlie Ward

cpw@wardlawfirm.com

Ward & Ward Law Firm
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225
 

Airplane Fires | Wrongful Death Attorney in Indianapolis

Airplane Crash Attorney in Indianapolis - Wrongful Death

Since 1993, at least 600 individuals have died as a result of being burned alive or smoke inhalation following small airplane crashes.

Results show that many victims who died from fire or smoke inhalation sustained very few broken bones or other injuries.  In some instances the fire occurred following a minor crash.  While in other instances the impact was greater.  What the crashes have in common is fuel line ruptures or fuel tank ruptures causing an instant fire.Call Charlie Ward at 317-639-9501

The Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, has taken no action regarding the fuel line/tank rupture issue.   In 1990, the FAA proposed changes for small airplanes to have equipment and design changes to prevent such fires.  However, the FAA withdrew the proposal facing criticism from airplane manufacturers.  The reason for the withdrawal–not worth the additional cost.

The National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, criticized the FAA’s decision for rejecting fire prevention recommendations.  A Canadian safety agency likewise criticized the FAA’s decision. Investigations show that in several crashes, some deaths and serious burns from fires and/or smoke inhalation could have easily been prevented had the airplanes been equipped with commercially available fuel systems.  These systems have better resistance to ruptures following a crash.

In 1978, the FAA noted itself that fuel line/tanks “would undoubtedly result in the saving of lives which otherwise would be lost in post-crash fires.”  Again in 1990, the FAA noted “Improved crash resistance is necessary to prevent thermal deaths and injuries in survivable crashes.”  Finally in 1994, the FAA started requiring crash resistant fuel systems in some helicopters.

Additional costs vs. saving lives/injuries.  That is the ultimate question.

 

Air Bag Recalls | Personal Injury Lawyers in Indianapolis

To check and see if your vehicle is covered in the airbag recall, check out the following link.

Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorney - Auto Air Bag Accidents The federal government increased the number of vehicles in a safety recall involving airbags from five million to eight million.  Vehicles in the recall include Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans and others. Call personal injury and accident lawyer Charlie Ward today for a free consultationThe government is urging owners to have the vehicles repaired as soon as possible because the airbags pose the risk of death and/or serious injury in a vehicle accident.  Investigators are also concerned that hot, humid air could potentially cause the air bag to explode unexpectedly.  Should this occur, it could cause metal shrapnel flying, causing death or serious injury.  General Motors and other manufacturers have also recently recalled vehicles for safety issues regarding airbags.  In total worldwide over 16 million vehicles have been recalled for safety issues involving airbags since 2002.  David Friedman with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration urges all consumers with these vehicles to immediately have them repaired to prevent any deaths or injuries.

Safety groups allege that four people have been killed and numerous others seriously injured from the sudden airbag deployment.  Airbags have been required on new vehicles since 1999.   The airbag devices are made by Tokyo based, Takata Corporation.

 

Supreme Court Upholds Caps on Punitive Damage Awards in Indiana

Lawyer for personal Injury in Indianapolis IN

Recently, the Indiana State Supreme Court upheld, by unanimous decision, Indiana statutes placing caps on punitive damage awards and how distribution is made.

 Under Indiana statute IC § 34-51-3-4, awards granted to plaintiffs for punitive damages are capped at three times compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. Under IC § 34-51-3-6 the plaintiff would receive 25% of the punitive damage award with the greater amount of the award (75%) going to the state’s Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund.Call Charlie Ward at 317-639-9501

 In State v. Doe the plaintiff was awarded $5,000 for compensatory damages and $150,000 for punitive damages by a jury. But under Indiana statute capping punitive damage awards, the plaintiff would receive the full amount of $5,000 for compensatory damages and 25% of $50,000 ($12,500) for a total award of $17,500. Indiana’s Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund would receive $37,500.

 The law firm of Ward & Ward has over 80 years of combined experience in breaking down the facts of a personal injury claim and working with insurance companies on behalf of their clients. If you have been injured in an automobile, trucking, motorcycle, or bicycle accident, please feel free to call me at 317-639-9501 for a free consultation.

Charlie Ward

(317) 639-9501

Supreme Court Upholds Caps on Punitive Damage Awards in Indiana | Auto, Motorcycle and 18-Wheeler Trucking Accident Personal Injury Lawyer

Indiana Enacts Caps on Punitive Damage AwardsCall Charlie Ward at 317-639-9501

Recently, the Indiana State Supreme Court upheld, by unanimous decision, Indiana statutes placing caps on punitive damage awards and how distribution is made.

Under Indiana statute IC § 34-51-3-4, awards granted to plaintiffs for punitive damages are capped at three times compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. Under IC § 34-51-3-6 the plaintiff would receive 25% of the punitive damage award with the greater amount of the award (75%) going to the state’s Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

In State v. Doe the plaintiff was awarded $5,000 for compensatory damages and $150,000 for punitive damages by a jury. But under Indiana statute capping punitive damage awards, the plaintiff would receive the full amount of $5,000 for compensatory damages and 25% of $50,000 ($12,500) for a total award of $17,500. Indiana’s Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund would receive $37,500.

A law firm with experience.

The law firm of Ward & Ward has over 85 years of combined experience in breaking down the facts of a personal injury claim and working with insurance companies on behalf of their clients. Although caps on punitive damage awards may not generate the desired effect on large corporations, the legislation has been upheld when reviewed in the highest court.

If you have been injured in an automobile, trucking, motorcycle, or bicycle accident, or suffered in a pedestrian accident, please feel free to call me at 317-639-9501 for a free consultation.

Charlie Ward

(317) 639-9501

Ward & Ward Law Firm
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225

 

What Does Negligence Mean in a Lawsuit?

‘Negligence’ Defined

Call personal injury and accident lawyer Charlie Ward today for a free consultation

We all have an idea of what negligence means. For example, we know a neglected child when we see one, we can all identify that one neglected house on our street, and we know what happens when we neglect our health or our finances.  But what does negligence mean in the legal sense?

Negligence and its elements

Legal negligence constitutes more than simply not taking adequate care of something.  It means failing to adhere to a minimum standard of conduct in a way that causes measurable harm to another person.  Lawyers and judges look for four elements of negligence:

  • Duty. In legal theory, everyone owes a duty to everyone else.  At base, everyone has the duty to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances.  For example, while it may seem sensible to you to speed home to feed the dog before you call AAA because your power steering and brakes have just failed, a reasonable person in the same circumstances would probably get off the road right away to avoid endangering himself and other drivers.
  • Breach. Breach is a violation of the duty owed.  To continue the example from above, your duty as driver of a vehicle that has suddenly lost its power steering and brakes is probably to move your vehicle out of traffic as quickly and safely as possible.  Failing to do this constitutes a breach of your duty to the other drivers on the road.
  • Cause. Legal cause encompasses two concepts. Factual causation means that your breach of duty set in motion a chain of events that otherwise would not have occurred. Proximate cause assumes factual causation and examines whether your breach was closely related enough to the resultant injury.  For example, if your reckless driving compels another driver to leave his or her usual route and take a detour through a bad neighborhood where he or she suffers an assault and carjacking, there may be factual causation—she would never have taken that detour if you stopped driving when you should have—but no proximate cause.
  • Damage. Finally, legal negligence requires a showing of damages.  If your poor driving merely frightens the other drivers on the road, but does not cause any accidents or injuries, the final element of negligence is missing—except under very special and limited circumstances, the law does not consider merely being afraid of something a measurable injury.

Experienced Indianapolis personal injury lawyers working for you

If you have a negligence case in Indiana, you need to work with an attorney who knows Indiana personal injury law inside and out.  The Indianapolis personal injury attorneys at Ward & Ward have nearly 80 years of combined experience working to ensure that personal injury victims in Indiana get the attention they deserve and the financial security they need.

If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of another’s negligence or recklessness, Ward & Ward, Attorneys invite you to contact them as soon as possible to arrange a free initial consultation about your case, by phone at 888-316-3449, through their website, or simply by visiting their conveniently located Indianapolis office.

The Truth Surrounding Stella Liebeck’s Personal Injury “Hot Coffee” Litigation and the Jury’s Punitive Damages Award | Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyers

McDonald’s hot coffee case spun by tort reform propagandists

Call Charlie Ward at 317-639-9501

Propaganda is a tool used for the purpose of swaying opinion. Sound bites about the ‘hot coffee’ case against a fast food chain have been crafted to malign and ridicule personal injury attorneys and the American legal justice system for the purpose of achieving local and ultimately national tort reform legislation in America.

Here are the facts surrounding Stella Liebeck’s case against the fast food restaurant for knowingly serving scalding hot coffee, capable of producing third degree burns in less than 7 seconds.

The facts behind the personal injury lawsuit

In 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79 year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was driven by her grandson through the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant for a breakfast order. Stella ordered a 49 cent cup of coffee. Since the car was without cup holders, her grandson parked the car so Stella could add cream, and sugar to her coffee. She placed the Styrofoam cup of coffee between her knees and lifted the far side of the lid toward her when the cup collapsed in her lap. She suffered third degree burns on 16% of her body including her abdomen, buttocks, thighs and groin when the coffee was absorbed by the sweat pants she was wearing. She spent eight days in the hospital for skin grafting procedures and an additional two years of medical treatments. She was scalded so badly, there were some doctors that thought she might not make it at all. She never fully recovered from the gruesome injuries.

Injured plaintiff offered to settle for only $20,000

Several attempts at a direct settlement were made by Stella’s family prior to retaining an attorney. One attempt to settle directly with the fast food chain was made early on by Stella’s daughter for the amount of $20,000 to cover Stella’s medical bills of $13,000 and her mother’s lost wages. The fast food chain countered with an offer of $800.00. Future correspondence with the restaurant chain went unanswered.

Plaintiff’s personal injury attorney made a last ditch attempt to settle the claim

Prior to trial, Liebeck’s attorney unsuccessfully offered to settle the case with the fast food chain and to graciously waive his own attorney fees in favor of his client. The day before trial, defense chose not to show up at the scheduled mediation (a last ditch attempt to settle before exercising the court system.) Why? At the time, New Mexico juries had never before found favorably for a plaintiff in any product liability case. The restaurant wanted to go to trial and put the issue to rest for potential future litigants—more than 700 of them, many of which had suffered third degree burns since 1982.

The evidence produced at trial

A typical home brewer serves coffee at a range of 142 to 162. When the coffee is poured into a ceramic cup, the heat dissipates even further. At that range you have up to 25 seconds to remove yourself from the situation before receiving burn injuries. However, at 187 (the temperature at which the fast food restaurant coffee was held),you have only 2-7 seconds to remove yourself from the situation before receiving 3rddegree burns. At trial, the jury learned that defendant’s policy manual required all restaurants hold their coffee between 180-190 degrees—a business decision to optimize taste, reduce waste and marginalize loss. Defendant’s own quality assurance manager testified that their coffee served at 185 in a Styrofoam cup was not fit for human consumption because it would burn the mouth and throat; and further, that the chain had no intention of reducing the holding temperature of its coffee. Defendant further admitted that their customers were unaware that they could suffer third degree burns from their scalding coffee.

Punitive Damage Award

The jury found defendant to be 80% responsible and Liebeck 20% responsible for her injuries. She received a reasonable compensatory award but it was the punitive damage award that stirred the media into a frenzy. Stunned by the chains reckless business decisions, it was a jury of her peers that awarded 2 days of coffee sales to Liebeck, approximately 2.7 million for punitive damages. But, keep in mind that the purpose for punitive damages is to change existing behavior.

A temperature check performed at the same local fast food restaurant where the incident occurred, revealed—post-verdict—that the restaurant had reduced their hold temperature to 158 degrees. Many coffee shops and restaurants have heeded the jury’s admonition and since have reduced their coffee temperatures in kind. But that’s not the end of Stella’s story…

Settlement amount remains a mystery

The trial court subsequently reduced the jury’s punitive damages award to $480,000, 3 times the final compensatory award. And a later settlement agreement between plaintiff and defendant, sealed by the court, adjusted the settlement once again. Few people know or will ever know what amount the plaintiff eventually received. To learn more about this story, you can find the full interview of Stella’s family here.

Personal injury lawyers experienced in product liability and personal injury claims

The jury’s verdict for punitive damages awarded the plaintiff remains a topic of conversation, even today. Just this week  Tru TV’s hit show, Adam Ruins Everything,  exposed the facts behind Stella Liebeck’s “hot coffee” claim and the attacks perpetrated on our legal profession by special interest tort reformists.

Our attorneys have more than eighty-six combined years of legal experience with personal injury, product liability and wrongful death claims. We receive no legal fees or expenses unless we collect damages on your behalf.  If you have been injured by the negligence of another person or entity, Call Charlie Ward today at 317-639-9501 for a free evaluation of your claim. There is no obligation.

Charlie Ward

(317) 639-9501

cpw@wardlawfirm.com

Ward & Ward Law Firm
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225