Angell Law Firm MAY 2018

MAY 2018 A ngell A dvocate

The Myth of the ‘Litigious Society’ | 3391 Peachtree Rd NE, Suite 110, Atlanta, GA 30326 | (404) 458-9838

What You Don’t Know About Victims, Attorneys, and the ‘Hot Coffee’ Suit

Everybody knows the story of the “hot coffee lawsuit lady” from back in the early ‘90s. The way the tale is normally told, a woman ordered a 49-cent coffee from the drive-through window at a local McDonald’s and set the cup between her knees in lieu of using the cupholders. Then, while she was speeding off, she upturned the cup, spilling hot coffee all over herself and suffering some minor burns. In response, the story goes, the woman saw dollar signs and decided to sue McDonald’s for everything it had, ending up with a hefty $640,000 reward for her trouble. In this version, the suit she brought is the perfect example of our overly litigious society: an imagined world wherein everybody’s eager to sue to make a quick buck. The reality of the situation was quite different. On that fateful day, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck was just trying to get a cup of coffee with her grandson. From the driver’s seat, he grabbed the cup and handed it to her. When she tried to remove the lid to add some cream and sugar, the 180-degree coffee spilled all over her and absorbed into her sweatpants, causing third-degree burns on her thighs, buttocks, and groin. For the next eight days, Liebeck was stuck in the hospital undergoing painful skin-grafting treatments, during which she lost more than 20 pounds. Afraid of the mounting medical costs, she left the hospital earlier than recommended and had to be driven back several more times by her daughter,

who took time off from her job to give her suffering mom a ride. In the end, Liebeck was permanently disfigured and partially disabled for the next two years. Initially, Liebeck’s family hired a lawyer and asked for a settlement of only $20,000 from McDonald’s to cover her $11,000 medical bills. They refused and offered her a paltry $800. In court, the jury awarded Liebeck $160,000 in medical expenses and $2.7 million in punitive damages — though this total was later lowered to $640,000 by the judge. During the trial, it came out that nearly 700 others had claimed to be burned by the ultra-hot coffee before Liebeck’s case. The money, Liebeck’s daughter told reporters, was used mostly to cover the medical expenses and to pay for a live-in nurse before Liebeck died at 91. The fiction of America’s “litigious society” only serves to help the big dogs like the insurance companies, and let me tell you, they don’t need the assistance. Your insurance exists to help you out when things get bad — it’s important to hold them accountable when they refuse to offer the compensation you need to make a full recovery and return to your normal life. The fact is, though massive corporations and parts of the media want you to believe otherwise, most folks involved in personal injury or tort lawsuits aren’t money-grubbing

opportunists. They’re simply regular people who have suffered terrible injuries and are trying their best to be made financially whole again. And the attorneys who represent these plaintiffs — lawyers like me — aren’t “ambulance chasers” or hucksters eager to take advantage of their clients’ suffering. I can tell you from personal experience that the vast majority of us are just interested in doing right by the people we serve, achieving justice for those who need it most. Certainly,

that’s the reason I keep coming into the office every day, and why I do my best to achieve the optimal verdict for every single client who depends on me.

–Bryce Angell

(404) 458-9838 1

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