You’ve probably all heard the story of Stella Liebeck, even if you don’t recognize the name. She’s the lady who sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself.
In many cases, she’s often dismissed as either greedy or stupid, but the truth is that her case can be cited as a textbook example of when to hire a personal injury attorney, including severe injuries, high medical bills, and a valid claim to company negligence.
Granted, her case was a bit of an extreme, and a very rare one at that, but the same basic rules apply to a car accident, or a slip and fall accident, or really any other way you can get injured.
Since this is a legal issue, the truth is in the details, which I’ve outlined more fully below.
Significant Injuries in a Slip and Fall Accident
We hear all the time about frivolous lawsuits, but, truth be told, it would be next to impossible to pull something like that off.
The reason for this is that the injury has to be serious. In the case of a slip and fall accident, bruising your arm and having it ache for a few days isn’t something to pursue a lawsuit over.
By definition, personal injury claims can’t succeed if the accident did not majorly impact the person’s life, at least for some time.
In Stella’s case, her coffee spill resulted in severe burns which required several surgeries to remedy. In fact, the whole process nearly killed her.
The final cost was $20,000 in medical costs, and that’s what really makes a personal injury case.
When it comes right down to it, everything’s measured in money. If it didn’t cost you anything, there’s no chance of it costing anybody else.
Burden of Proof
As with any other court case, the burden of proof in a slip and fall accident case falls on the plaintiff.
This is where the lawyer comes in.
It’s not especially hard to get the proof that you were, in fact, injured, and that it did impact your health. The best and easiest ways to do this are asking your boss for work records and your doctors for medical records. Tax forms and medical bills also help.
You should also get pictures of the fall site and your injuries, and the names of anyone involved, be they property owners or potential witnesses.
The lawyer’s job is to interpret all this information and figure out how to use it in court.
For instance, let’s say you slipped and fell somewhere and hit your head. You woke up later in the hospital.
The accident report says that you were found unconscious with one pupil dilated. Your doctors told you that you suffered something called a subdural hematoma. But what is that, and how does it help you win your case?
This is one of the reasons we would recommend hiring a slip and fall attorney, or a personal injury lawyer. These guys specialize in accident cases, so a slip and fall accident case will be right up their alley.
They may even know some of the medical jargon already, so they’ll be able to tell you that a subdural hematoma means that there is a bleed between the two outermost layers of brain casing, but not in the brain itself.
In most cases, it’s something that needs to be dealt with and dealt with surgically. It would definitely qualify as an injury serious enough to go to court over.
The other major factor in a slip and fall accident case is proving who is at fault and why.
Let’s go back to the Stella Liebeck case for just a moment. Much of the criticism she receives today centers around the fact that coffee is usually made hot, and asserts that Stella should have known better.
However, the problem in the actual case wasn’t simply that the coffee was hot, but that it was hot enough to give Stella third-degree burns when she spilled it.
The evidence actually aligned with McDonald’s being at fault, because company procedure at the time had employees heating coffee to nearly 200 degrees.
Not only that, but Stella wasn’t the first person to complain about burning herself with coffee. McDonald’s had received several hundred complaints of people being burned by their coffee and did nothing to make it safer.
In the end, Stella was awarded a settlement of nearly $2 million, and of course, McDonald’s put warnings on their coffee.
In most cases, assigning fault isn’t that cut and dry. A lot of the process involves combing through city and state bylaws or ordinances to see what responsibilities a property owner has in any given area, and what counts as negligence.
Going to Court
The decision to go to court can be a difficult one, especially since most people prefer settling out of court.
If you’d rather not bring the case before a judge, there is nothing wrong with settling out of court, especially if the expenses you were suing over in the first place have been covered.
However, if worse comes to worse and you do end up having to go to court, make sure you are ready with:
- A claim of significant injuries, and/or loss of money.
- Proof that said injuries occurred exactly how you said and that they caused you to lose money
- A lawyer who is qualified, and preferably well-reputed, to navigate the details of the case and present them in the best light. We can give you some help on this one.
- A sensible claim as to why the defendant holds the most responsibility for your accident.
You need all of these things, or else your case doesn’t have much of a chance.
The good news is that when it comes to legal services or really any other, Findabusinessthat.com is here to help.
We have articles on everything from hiring a plumber to finding a good lawyer and more. We even have a list of services and providers, along with their complete contact information, so no matter what you need, we can help you find it.