Legler, Murphy & Battaglia, LLP Logo

What are Punitive Damages and Why Should I Care About Them?

107007653 16433170092022 01 27t205009z 350782834 Rc2v7s9l3xsv Rtrmadp 0 Mcdonalds Results 1080x675

107007653 16433170092022 01 27t205009z 350782834 Rc2v7s9l3xsv Rtrmadp 0 Mcdonalds Results 1080x675

You have probably heard people discussing the McDonald’s “Hot Coffee Case.” You have heard that case touted as one of the most extreme cases of frivolous tort litigation. And for those who don’t know the facts, it’s easy to feel that way. Even some of our own clients, those coming to our office to seek redress for own injuries, know it as a frivolous lawsuit, with an unwarranted and excessive verdict.

But what many people are unaware of is that the “Hot Coffee Case” involved a type of damages called punitive damages and they further fail to understand why and when those types of damages are warranted.

When someone is injured by someone else’s negligence, they have a right to bring their claim to the Courthouse and to allow a jury of their peers decide how much (or how little) they were damaged. Juries can award economic damages, for things like medical bill and lost wages. They can also award noneconomic damages, which aim to compensate an injured party for their pain and suffering and any inconvenience that their injuries may have occasioned them. In rare circumstances, a jury may also consider whether a person should be entitled to punitive damages.

Punitive damages are warranted in cases of extreme recklessness. The “Hot Coffee Case” is the perfect example of how punitive damages can come into play. Indeed, many people roll their eyes when they hear about the McDonald’s hot coffee case. They find it just ludicrous that an elderly woman, Stella Liebeck, burned her skin while taking the lid off of a cup of coffee while seated in a car (who does that anyways?!?). And that she received a multi-million-dollar verdict for her injuries. They failed to hear the fact that Ms. Liebeck sustained third-degree burns over 16% of her body as a result of the incident, that she required numerous skin grafting procedures, or that she required significant medical treatment for over two years.

In the investigatory phase of Ms. Liebeck’s case, it came to light that McDonald’s consciously chose to sell their coffee DANGEROUSLY hot. Not just a little hot, but scald your skin off in a matter of seconds hot. Their coffee was knowingly and intentionally served at 190 degrees Fahrenheit; a temperature which the corporation knew would cause serious third-degree burns to a person’s skin in a matter of seconds. Further, it was learned that McDonald’s main motive for serving their coffee this hot was so that it would take a person longer to drink a single cup and that, therefore, that person could not request numerous “free” refills. In other words, McDonald’s knowingly and consciously put its customers’ safety at risk so that they could make more money. Not only that, it was unveiled that McDonald’s, in an only 10-year period prior to Ms. Liebeck’s incident, was aware of more than 700 other people who were burned by their coffee in the exact same way! But still did NOTHING to make their product safer for their customers! Their own quality control expert testified that no one could ever drink the coffee they sold at the temperature it was sold at because it would cause severe burns to a person’s throat. The jury in Ms. Liebeck’s case understandably found McDonald’s conduct reckless and in conscious disregard for the safety of its customers – all for the goal of making more money.

The lesson here is that putting profits over a person’s safety is never okay. So, in sum, punitive damages exist to control corporate conduct and to protect consumers. To promote honesty and integrity by companies to their customers. And to make sure that a company’s profits never be treated as more reverent than human life.

 

Here at our firm, we have successfully argued many motions to have claims for punitive damages considered by the jury in rendering a verdict. At Legler, Murphy, & Battaglia, LLP, we are committed to helping our clients get the fair outcomes they deserve. We are personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers that aggressively pursue what is right for our clients. We proudly serve the injured in Bradenton, Ellenton, Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota, and Venice. We have helped thousands of injured victims get the financial compensation they deserve.

 

 

Vanessa Castro Viera
Vanessa Castro Viera
November 3, 2023
I had the privilege of working with Kelli Martinez as my personal injury attorney, and I can't express enough how grateful I am for her exceptional guidance and support throughout the entire process. From the moment I first contacted her to the conclusion of my case, Kelli demonstrated an unwavering commitment to ensuring my rights were protected and that I received the compensation I deserved. I highly recommend her to anyone seeking legal representation for personal injury cases.
Jen Wiradilaga (SWFL Horses)
Jen Wiradilaga (SWFL Horses)
October 19, 2023
I am so pleased with the service and care Mr. Murphy has shown. Always has time for a phone call , emailed questions are answered so quickly , it is refreshing. I had guidance every step of the way. My Case was settled quickly and effectively. Everyone that is in this off is is exceptional! Thank you so much
amanda reese
amanda reese
October 17, 2023
Mr. Murphy and his team were amazing to work with. In a stressful situation they were on top of making sure I understood my options and walking me through the process when I’d stress out. He fought to make sure I was fairly treated and not just another person swept under the rug and forgot about. I highly recommend him if you ever need and hope to have a timely resolution and team that is top notch.
Ana Maria Araujo
Ana Maria Araujo
October 12, 2023
I am very grateful to Ed Murphy for accepting my case against work compensation, otherwise I wouldn't have had another doctor for a second examination and I would have been at home without being able to work again. I am thankful for all the work Ed and his assistant Jessica have done in my case. I am very happy with the service, every time I called I was treated very nicely by the front desk staff, Kelly. Thanks
Carlene Overacker
Carlene Overacker
October 6, 2023
I highly recommend Mr. Murphy. He immediately responded to the issues I was having with my workers compensation case. He reached out to me in a timely manner. I was always able to get ahold of him via the phone and emails. I never felt rushed in our meetings and conversations. He was professional and courteous. I am very satisfied how quickly I received my settlement.
Erica Aghoian
Erica Aghoian
September 22, 2023
I highly recommend contacting Ed Murphy with your worker's compensation case. From day one he took the time to explain all aspects of the case, listened to my questions and concerns, and kept me up-to-date as the case progressed. I believe he was able to achieve the best possible outcome with my case, and I couldn't be happier to have worked with him. I had never hired an attorney before, but he immediately put me at ease and had my trust. Great experience from start to finish!
Patricia Lara
Patricia Lara
September 12, 2023
I can't say enough how much help Ed Murphy was during such a difficult situation. From day one he was understanding and made us feel at ease. He helped us achieve the most positive out come in our law suit with workers comp. If you ever need assistance I highly recommend contacting Ed Murphy!
Trust Cleaning Inc
Trust Cleaning Inc
August 15, 2023
This message is for anyone who needs a good lawyer, I recommend Ed Murphy because he is a professional and patient person, he fights until the end of his case or any type of case, I recommend him to everyone 100% . there is no other attorney like ed murphy i just have to say thank you so much for helping me with my accident case.

ALL INJURIES ALL THE TIME
————
How Can We Assist You?