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Three of America’s Most Famous Product Liability Cases

Humans learn from the times of their earliest perceptions that the world around us is full of danger. In fact, much of what our parents teach us is designed to protect us from potential harm. We learn to look both ways before crossing a street, not to accept rides from strangers and to lock the doors when we are home alone. But the last thing we expect is to suffer harm when using products for which we actually paid hard-earned money.

While the government, non-profit watchdog groups, and others work diligently to help keep us safe, that work is not always enough. Sometimes, product liability lawsuits are necessary to force an industry to act in the best interests of consumers. In this article, we’ll discuss three of America’s most high-profile product liability lawsuits:

  • The McDonald’s Coffee Case
  • Owens Corning Asbestos Cases
  • The Philip Morris Tobacco Case

But before diving into the product liability lawsuit examples above, let’s review the definition of product liability.

What is product liability?

Product liability laws are intended to protect consumers from being harmed by dangerous products. Consumers trust manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and retailers to provide products that are well-made and safe. When that trust is broken, product liability lawsuits ensure that the responsible entities are held accountable.

The types of products that fall under product liability laws are usually concrete personal or household items, though this can depend on the case, the laws in your state, and other factors.

Common product liability lawsuit examples:

  • Medical devices, such as hip implants and IUDs
  • Household or personal care items
  • Cars and car parts

High-profile product liability cases, such as the case against Roundup weed killer in 2019, continue to shed light on how consumers can be put in danger due to defects, design flaws, misinformation, or other types of negligence on the part of trusted companies.

When is a product liability case appropriate in Oregon?

Each state has its own set of product liability laws and rules. However, the laws are generally similar, and designed to make society safer by providing consumers with a remedy for injuries caused by dangerous products.

In Oregon, the 2017 Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.900 provides that a person may sue a manufacturer, distributor, seller, or lessor of a product for damages for personal injury, death, or property damage, which arise out of the following:

  • Design, inspection, manufacturing, testing, or other product defect
  • Failure to warn related to a product
  • Failure to properly instruct in the use of a product

Below, we will take a look at some very famous examples of product liability lawsuits from around the country.

McDonald’s Coffee Case

In 1994, a 79-year-old woman seriously scalded herself when she spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap. A jury ultimately awarded more than $2.7 million (although only a fraction of that was collected). For many, the case was cited as an example of greed and abuse of the legal system – but in reality, the complete opposite is true.

First, the plaintiff was seriously injured. She was hospitalized for eight days to receive skin grafts and had two years of medical treatment afterwards.

Second, McDonald’s was aware of the problem, having received hundreds of reports of burns resulting from the temperature of its coffee. McDonald’s admitted keeping its coffee at 185 degrees Fahrenheit, even though a burn risk existed above 140 degrees.

The plaintiff attempted to settle the case for only her actual and anticipated medical expenses. In response, McDonald’s offered $800.00.

Owens Corning Asbestos Cases

Most people by now are aware of the grave dangers posed to human health by asbestos exposure, but not everyone can name the famous liability cases that have provided some justice for those harmed by such exposure.

Between 1958 and 1972, Owens Corning – America’s largest building insulation producer – sold a type of pipe insulation called Kaylo. Unfortunately for many, Kaylo was alleged to have produced dangerous dust on construction sites, leading to scores of cases of the fatal cancer mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer and asbestosis.

The company had a long reputation for litigating, rather than settling, its cases. But in 1998, Owens Corning did an about face, announcing settlement of 176,000 cases for $1.2 billion. It represented approximately 90 percent of the company’s outstanding asbestos cases.

Philip Morris Tobacco Case

In the 1950’s, at age 17, California resident Betty Bullock started smoking. Sadly, she ultimately developed lung cancer, which spread to the liver. The manufacturer – tobacco company Philip Morris – defended on the basis of the plaintiff’s choice to smoke, arguing that she had failed to stop for many decades, even though she knew the dangers.

The plaintiff, on the other hand, argued that Philip Morris had long hidden the dangers of smoking, starting in the 1950s.

In her trial on punitive damages, the jury awarded the plaintiff $28 billion, in addition to an earlier award of $850,000.00 in compensatory damages.

Call with Questions

If you’ve been injured as a result of a dangerous product, you probably have questions about your rights and how to best proceed. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, our experienced products liability attorneys know the answers and would be happy to answer your questions. We believe that it is imperative that all wrongdoers be held accountable to the appropriate standard. That way, we all live in a safer society.