3 Popular and Unconventional Examples of Personal Injury Lawsuits

Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and NBC all took the heat for causing injury to individuals.

When you think of personal injury lawsuits, you may automatically think of automobile accidents. These events happen quite frequently, so it’s no surprise that they may be the first thing that comes to mind.

Yet stranger things have happened. And if someone believes they have a right to be compensated for their injuries, they can try to file a lawsuit. As personal injury attorneys provide legal representation to individuals who have been injured in an accident, they can also help with a wide array of incidents.

And just how wide? Think an exploding glass soda bottle, a hot cup of coffee, and an episode of a popular primetime television show. Read on to explore the details of these unconventional personal injury lawsuits.

Escola v. Coca-Cola (July 5, 1944)

A landmark case in American law, this lawsuit involved a waitress named Gladys Escola. She sued Coca-Cola after a glass bottle exploded in her hand, resulting in a deep five-inch cut that severed the blood vessels, nerves, and muscles of her hand.  She alleged that Coca-Cola was negligent in selling “bottles containing said beverage which on account of excessive pressure of gas or by reason of some defect in the bottle was dangerous…and likely to explode.”

The court ended up ruling in Escola’s favor, though the case gained fame for Justice Roger Traynor’s concurring opinion. He argued instead of deciding the case on the basis of negligence, but instead by imposing a rule of strict liability on manufacturers whose products could cause injury. This rule was officially adopted in nearly 20 years later, in 1963 with Greenman v. Yuba Power Products.

This case is a favorite to read for first-year law students.

Liebeck vs. McDonald’s (August 18, 1994)

In another blow to the upper echelons of Americana foodfare, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman from New Mexico, filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s in 1994. She suffered third-degree burns from accidentally spilling a McDonald’s hot coffee in her lap, resulting in a eight-day hospital stay and two years of medical treatment.

This case gained fame because it led to the question: just how hot is too hot for hot coffee? Is this an unnecessary lawsuit?

But this wasn’t a frivolous lawsuit, with experts testifying that McDonald’s coffee was 30 to 40 degrees hotter at 180 to 190 degrees than other coffee served by companies. Liebeck was awarded $160,000 for compensatory damages for pain, suffering, and medical costs, and $480,000 for punitive damages, with the trial judge declaring McDonald’s behavior as “willful, wanton, reckless and callous.”

Aitken v. Fear Factor (March 10, 2005)

NBC took the heat in this 2005 trial. Austin Aitken, a part-time paralegal from Cleveland, Ohio, sued NBC for $2.5 million after watching an episode of Fear Factor where contestants had to eat blended rats. Aitken alleged that he became so distraught that his blood pressure rose, causing him to hit his head and vomit.

Aitken sued to send a message to NBC and other networks about their programming. He alleged that this caused suffering, injury and great pain because he wasn’t able to shut his television off quickly enough. U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells in Cleveland, Ohio, threw out the lawsuit, calling it frivolous and citing First Amendment Protection.

This didn’t stop the jokes: Matt Kunitz, the show’s executive producer, said at the time, “Evidently, fear was a factor for him. We knew that justice would prevail and we’re pleased with the outcome.”

If you or someone you know is in need of legal help or advice, contact us today to receive a free consultation regarding your situation. We have a nationwide team of experienced personal injury lawyers and medical providers that can make sure you get the help that you deserve.