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Over 100,000 lawsuits have been filed against the makers of pelvic mesh implants, making the issue one of the biggest mass torts in history.
If you have spent any time watching tv in the past 10 years, you have no doubt seen commercials for law firms recruiting plaintiffs for the class action case against pelvic mesh implants.
Over $8 billion in settlements demonstrates just how far reaching the failure of the surgically implanted device really is.
This is just one of the common class action lawsuits Americans are regularly invited to get in on.
If you or someone you love has been wronged and suffered an injury, you very may well have a tort claim. Even if you have never been involved in a tort claim, you are no doubt fascinated by some of the outrageous famous tort cases that have made national headlines.
America is a litigious country, and the jury awards in tort cases show how seriously Americans take their rights.
Famous tort cases have shaped the development of American civil liberties, environmental policy, consumer safety, and the right to privacy.
While some of these cases might elicit a laugh, they likely had a profound impact on the American legal system.
Keep reading for a list of five famous tort cases and their surprising settlement amounts.
Elements of Famous Tort Cases
Before we dive into the cases, we should explain what a tort is.
Tort is French for “wrong” and is a wrongful act, intentional or accidental, that causes injury to another.
Torts include negligence cases and personal injury. Tort cases must prove that there was a duty, a breach of that duty, causation, and injury.
Torts are a pretty broad category, and many types of cases, from physical injury to invasion of privacy, are included under the term. We would suggest consulting an attorney for more information on how to file a tort claim.
There are two types of damages awarded in tort cases: compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages are awarded to the plaintiff as compensation for damages and injury.
Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages essentially as a punishment to the defendant when their actions are determined to be reckless or negligent.
When a civil jury awards a settlement, the presiding judge will often adjust the amount award down to a more reasonable number, but the jury sends a strong message with their original award.
Now, let’s take a look at five famous tort law cases that took America by storm and had a lasting impact on the relationship between consumer and producer.
1. Liebeck v. McDonald’s
Perhaps one of the most famous negligence cases in the United States is the case of Stella Liebeck.
In 1994, Liebeck was sitting in the back seat of her parked car when she placed the cup of coffee she had just gotten between her knees to remove the lid. While she was trying to remove the lid, it flipped open and dumped the coffee in her lap.
When the coffee spilled, she received 3rd-degree burns on her upper legs and groin. The burns were so severe she required hospitalization and skin grafts. She required a week of hospitalization and three weeks of time at home to recover.
McDonald’s coffee was intentionally served especially hot with a temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit. It was revealed that McDonald’s quality control was well aware of this and intentionally served the coffee at this scalding temperature.
In fact, there had been 700 complaints about the temperature of the coffee before Liebeck’s injury.
Liebeck retained counsel and sued the fast food giant for just $20,000 after they offered her a measly $800 as compensation for her injuries.
McDonald’s stood by their coffee and took the case to trial. When it came out in the trial that McDonald’s had received so many previous complaints and maintained the temperature of their coffee, the jury was not happy.
They found McDonald’s 80% responsible for the incident and awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages. They also awarded Liebeck 2.86 million dollars in punitive damages because they deemed McDonald’s actions willful, wanton, and reckless.
The judge presiding over the trail reduced the award to $480,000.
The Liebeck was probably the first case to gain national attention as a potentially frivolous lawsuit. As you can see by the outcome, the jury did not see the case as frivolous.
2. Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company
The Grimshaw tort case revolutionized how motor vehicle manufacturers prioritized the safety of their vehicles.
Prior to this landmark case, the safety features of a vehicle were not a priority.
When Ford came out with its Pinto car, they knew it was unsafe before it even hit the market.
During testing an analysis, the gas tank on the car ruptured in every case where the vehicle speed exceeded 25 mph. The company performed a cost-benefit analysis and determined it would cost between $1-$8 per car to remedy the problem.
They weighed the options and decided to pay the settlements from lawsuits by injured people rather than fix the design flaw in the cars.
Hundreds of people died a fiery death because of this decision.
The case of Richard Grimshaw involved two injured parties, one fatally so.
Lily Gray was driving a Ford Pinto when she was rear-ended by another car at 30 mph. The gas tank in the Pinto ruptured, and Gray died in a ball of fire. Gray had a passenger in her car, 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw. Grimshaw survived but was permanently disfigured.
The two families filed a civil lawsuit against Ford. The jury, in this case, awarded $2.5 million to Grimshaw, $559,000 to Gray’s estate, and $125 million in punitive damages.
Ford appealed the decision, and the judge reduced the punitive damages to $3.5 million.
There were over a hundred other lawsuits and a federal investigation before Ford recalled the Pinto.
3. Bollea v. Gawker
The Bollea case is notable because of its impact on the court’s value of individual privacy rights.
Terry Bollea was the plaintiff in this famous tort case. You likely know him better as Hulk Hogan, the WWE superstar and reality tv regular.
Bollea filed a tort lawsuit against the website published Gawker for invasion of privacy. The website posted a video taken of Bollea having sex with his friend’s wife.
While the video was taken without Bollea’s consent or knowledge, he alleges his friend approved of the encounter and was the one who recorded the video.
The case was essentially an argument over the right to free speech versus the right to privacy. Both of these rights are first amendment rights in the constitution.
The jury awarded a victory to Bollea with an award of $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Gawker appealed the verdict and the claim was settled out of court with a settlement of $31 million and removal of the article in question.
This case showed how important individual privacy is to Americans, even when it comes to celebrities.
4. Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc.
The Anderson case has been instrumental in the development of environmental law in the United States.
This case took place in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s in Woburn, Massachuttes. Children in this area started developing leukemia in clusters, and one of the children’s mothers decided to investigate.
When her son, Jimmy, developed Leukemia, Anne Anderson discovered that a company by the name of Cryovac, which is a division of W.R. Grace, has been polluting the water.
The company had buried 184 barrels of chemicals right near the locations of the two weels for the City of Woburn. The chemicals from the barrels contaminated the drinking water and poisoned the children.
The water showed high levels of trichloroethylene and other potent chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed there was widespread contamination in the area.
Cryovac had been using chemical solvents to clean their equipment and dilute paint. The case settled for $8 million, but 16 children died as a result of the contamination.
5. Anderson et at. v. Pacific Gas & Electric
This case is similar to Anderson v. Cryovac but does not involve the same parties.
In the early 1990s, Erin Brockovich discovered that residents of Hinkley, California were becoming sick and dying early as a result of pollutants in the groundwater.
Erin Brockovich became a famous consumer rights advocate, and a movie was made in her name in public adjuster.
Brockovich took samples of the groundwater in the town of Hinkley and found that the water contained toxic levels of hexavalent chromium, also called chromium 6.
The company responsible for the pollution was determined to be Pacific Gas & Electric.
They were ordered in court to clean up and remove the pollutants, but it was never completed. They were ordered to pay $333 million in damages resulting from their actions.
More Famous Cases
While these five famous tort cases were particularly impactful on policy and set a precedent for future tort cases, there are many more to study.
Tort cases regularly make national headlines in the United States because they often affect average consumers.
If you believe you may have a tort case, contact a personal injury attorney in your state to get a case evaluation.