Product Liability laws were established to protect consumers against sub-par manufacturers who are only in the business to make money, instead of providing quality products and services. But even the most well-thought out rules have holes. Over the years – and thousands of lawsuits later – there have been several product liability claims that will make you question their validity. Were the victims really injured due to a defective produc; or were they simply manipulating the system?
Liebeck v. McDonald’s case of 1994
One of the most popular product liability claims against the golden arches corporation. Stella Liebeck, then 79 of Albuquerque, New Mexico, ordered coffee from a Drive-thru window at McDonald’s on February, 1992. She placed it between her knees, but it spilled as soon as she removed the lid. Liebeck suffered third degree burns and spent 8 days at a hospital to undergo skin grafting.
At the end of the trial, she was awarded $200,000 by the jury, reduced to $160,000 because she was found to be 20 percent at fault for what happened. However, McDonald’s was charged with $2.7 million in punitive damages (this isn’t the final settlement yet as both parties entered a private resolution). The success of the case was attributed to the temperature in which the fast food joint served its coffee: a scalding 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (normal temperatures should be between 135 to 140 degrees).
What We Can Learn: Coffee served today is definitely at a much comfortable temperature. There are also warning labels and appropriate cup holders to remind us consumers that what we are about to drink is hot. So we should exercise logic and be extra cautious, so as to avoid stressful situations (and unexpected injuries).
Francisco Garcia vs. Ledraplastic
NBA player Francisco Garcia just signed a 5-year contract with the Kings in 2009 when he was injured due to the Ledraplastic balancing ball. He was balancing himself on the exercise ball, while lifting 90-pound weights in each hand at the same time. The ball burst, resulting in a fractured right forearm as well as missing the initial season of the contract (worth $30 million). Garcia, along with the Sacramento Kings, filed for breach of warranty. They were later awarded for injuries, lost salary, and reimbursement of the pay to Garcia. The parties went into a private settlement, so no one really knows how much they won.
What We Can Learn: Always look for warning labels and pay attention to product demos, ads, and warranties. Be on the safe side by going under the attested attribute (Ledraplastic claimed the ball can support 600 pounds, but it burst at 400 during investigation). If you suspect that a product isn’t upholding its promises, report it to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Nestlé and Muscle Milk Go Head To Head
While most product liability claims are filed by individuals, it can also be filed by other businesses – in this case, the dairy giant Nestlé Corp. In 2009, it charged CytoSport (manufacturer of the famous ‘Muscle Milk’) with ‘deceptively misdescriptive’ trademark and marketing. Nestlé argues that as Muscle Milk contains no actual milk, it was misleading customers who think they were drinking flavored or supplemented milk (when they weren’t). No monetary charges were awarded; however, CytoSport agreed to include clear disclosure on their products to close the case.
What We Can Learn: Cases like these are actually tricky and need to be monitored for future inconsistency. Consumers must watch labels carefully and contact the manufacturer if there’s any misunderstanding. There are strict rules to making business claims nowadays. Still, there are manufacturers who think they can circumvent product liability laws.
It’s important to know the product well before using it. Read user testimonials and product manuals. Ask questions to the seller or look up the manufacturer (especially if the product seems questionable). If you or someone you know was hurt by a defective item, don’t hesitate to contact a product liability attorney.