An article in the Huffington Post last week emphasized a principle that we have discussed often on this blog: the effect tort reform will have on limiting valid Illinois injury lawsuits. The story attempted to provide context to the often misleading claims made by proponents of reform.
One tactic used to distort the effect of these reform efforts is to mention large verdicts reached by juries in a few isolated cases that seem unfair out of context. For example, the most high-profile case mentioned is that of the elderly McDonald’s customer who was awarded $3 million following horrific burns she suffered when an employee spilled boiling coffee into her lap. The award was deemed by some as a sign of “what was wrong” with the American civil justice system.
However, a closer look at that particular case provides a more appropriate filter though which to examine the personal injury lawsuit. The 82-year old victim’s burns were only inches from her private area, ultimately requiring a variety of skin grafts. She was certainly not the only person harmed by McDonalds in this way. Over 700 people had already made formal complaints to the company because of the coffee situation. However, those complaints had done nothing to change the McDonalds practice of serving coffee at temperatures up to 205 degrees Fahrenheit-sufficient to peel skin off bones in less than seven seconds.
The elderly victim in the original case only sought to have her medical bills paid for by the negligent company. Instead, after hearing the evidence, the jury decided that the only way to get the company to change its dangerous practice (because 700 victims apparently had no effect) was to hit the company in the pocketbook. The jury, made up of community members, therefore decided to award the $3 million in that particular case to emphasis the company’s extreme negligence in allowing victims to mount without implementing any changes.
Unfortunately, that back-story is rarely explained, allowing the myth of certain lawsuit oversteps to be perpetuated. The truth remains that tort reform efforts are pushed by big businesses seeking to insulate themselves from the responsibility of paying for the consequences of their behavior. Instead of accepting the duty to compensate victims of their negligence, these large companies, from medical providers to nursing home conglomerates, would rather rig the system so that legal rights are taken away from the people they harm.
Our Chicago personal injury lawyers at Levin & Perconti will continue to set the record straight on so-called tort reform claims. We have spent decades working day in and day out with the real people injured by the negligence of others. It is vital that the names, faces, and stories behind a variety of these lawsuits, like those involving medical malpractice, are shared with the public. In that way, the myths spread by these big businesses may be dispelled once and for all.
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