Did you know that some of your favorite celebrities have taken part in some pretty popular legal scuffles? From beloved comedians to average Joes, some of the most unexpected accidents have turned into globally-popular personal injury cases. Today we’re sharing the eight most famous personal injury cases and what you should take away from them.
1. Harris v. McGraw
Phil McGraw, more commonly known as Dr. Phil, has been a daytime TV staple for nearly 20 years. In 2009, Dr. Phil and his wife, Robin, invited a friend and frequent talk show guest Janet Harris to visit their home. While at the McGraw residence, Janet was bitten by Maggie, the McGraw’s pet dog.
After the incident, the McGraws provided Harris with their homeowner’s insurance information—though, allegedly, Harris never filed an insurance claim—and paid for a Hawaiian vacation. Fast forward a few months, and Harris’ dog bite injury became severely infected, causing a loss of hearing and hand tremors that forced her out of work.
In 2011, Harris filed a $7M personal injury lawsuit against the MCGraws for her damages. She claimed the McGraws were negligent and bribed her with a vacation to keep quiet. The case ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in Harris’ favor.
2. Anderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric
The Anderson v. Pacific Gas and Electric case took the nation by storm in the ‘90s, spearheaded by the now-legendary Erin Brockovich. In 1993, Brockovich discovered the
Pacific Gas and Electric company (PG&E) had knowingly dumped toxic, contaminated wastewater into the groundwater of Hinkley, California. The dumping took place between 1952 and 1966, though PG&E did not inform the local water board about the carcinogenic wastewater until 1987.
The accumulation of wastewater caused a cluster of illnesses in the community, all of which were linked to hexavalent chromium, a rust suppressor used within PG&E gas lines. Brockovich, a legal clerk at the time, banded together with the community to lead an investigation. The case originally went to arbitration before it was settled in 1996 for $333 million—making the case the largest settlement of a direct-action lawsuit in American history and one of the most famous tort law cases.
3. Liebeck v. Mcdonald’s Corporation
Ever wonder why all of your hot drinks from McDonald’s are emblazoned with a “Caution HOT!” label? You can thank 79-year-old Stella Liebeck from Albuquerque, New Mexico for that.
On February 27, 1992, Liebeck ordered a 49-cent hot coffee from the drive-through window of her local McDonald’s restaurant. Liebeck waited until the car was parked to add cream and sugar to her coffee. In a vehicle with no cup holders, Liebeck placed the cup of coffee between her knees but it spilled. The entire cup of hot coffee drenched her lap, soaking through and absorbing into her cotton sweatpants. The coffee scalded her groin, thighs, and buttocks. She received third-degree burns in her pelvic region that required an eight-day hospital visit, skin grafts, and two years of medical treatment.
Liebeck’s personal injury attorney claimed that at roughly 190 °F, McDonald’s coffee was defective, arguing that liquid that hot was more likely to cause severe injury than coffee served in other restaurants. McDonald’s fought against this argument, taking Liebeck to court. Liebeck was eventually awarded $2.7M for punitive damages, and the ”McDonald’s Case” became synonymous with food law in the U.S.
4. Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company
You may have heard of the Ford Pinto, but the chances of you ever seeing that vehicle again are slim to none thanks to a personal injury lawsuit. In 1972, Lily Gray was driving a Ford Pinto with her passenger, Richard Grimshaw.
The vehicle was rear-ended and erupted in flames, severely injuring Grimshaw and killing Gray. The worst part was this tragic accident wasn’t the first time the Pinto was to blame for wrongful death.
In crash tests, Ford Motor Company realized that the gas tanks in the Pinto almost always ruptured in rear car accidents. As opposed to spending less than $10 per vehicle to fix the problem, Ford did nothing. This led to hundreds of innocent people burning to death in relatively low-speed crashes. Individual wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits were combined, and in 1981, a jury awarded $127.8M in damages to victims and their families. Needless to say, the Pinto was permanently recalled shortly after.
5. Escola v. The Coca-Cola Company
In 1944, waitress Gladys Escola was stocking glass bottles of Coca-Cola when one of America’s favorite beverages spontaneously exploded in her hand. The explosion was so severe, Escola suffered a five-inch-deep cut that severed the blood vessels, nerve endings, and muscles of her thumb and palm. In order to pay for her medical bills and pain and suffering, she filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company, which eventually made its way to court.
Escola’s personal injury lawyer called one of Coca-Cola’s delivery drivers as a witness, who testified that he had seen multiple bottles of Coke explode and had found broken bottles in the warehouse. The jury found the defect was in the bottle itself and ruled the Coca-Cola Company negligent for not correcting the issue. Escola was awarded compensation for her medical expenses and the case went on to set precedence for both grounds of negligence and strict product liability.
6. Bret Michaels v. CBS
We all know that rock stars like to party hard, but apparently hitting your head while exiting the stage is not part of typical performance. The CBS broadcasting company found this out the hard way after Bret Michaels hit his head at the 2009 Tony Awards. The Poison singer and reality TV personality was injured by a moving set piece while exiting the stage. Afterward, the Award Show’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, joked that Bret Michaels had taken the term “headbanger” to a whole new level. Michaels, who suffered a broken nose and later a brain hemorrhage, probably didn’t find the joke too funny.
As part of his attorney-client relationship, Michaels informed his law firm that CBS had never properly instructed him on how to exit the stage. Without full instruction, he was injured by a moving part of their set. Michaels and his attorney filed a personal injury claim against CBS for which the courts ruled in Michaels’ favor for an undisclosed amount.
7. Gloria Estefan v. Tractor-Trailer
Gloria Estefan warned us the “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” but she forgot to mention that sometimes, a negligent driver can get you too. In 1990, singer and Cuban icon Gloria Estefan was on her tour bus accompanied by family and crew members. Her bus stalled in traffic when it was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. Estefan suffered a broken back, her child endured a broken collarbone, and her husband sustained head injuries.
The accident forced Estefan to cancel her tour and receive immediate medical attention. She had two steel rods implanted in her back, and it took her nearly a year to recuperate. Estefan’s auto accident attorney sued the driver of the truck, the driver’s employer, and five other companies affiliated with the goods being transported on the truck. Estefan’s back injury settlement totaled $8.5 million.
8. Tracy Morgan v. Wal-Mart Inc.
Walmart is no stranger to personal injury accidents. In fact, Walmart's slip and falls are some of the most common accident-related searches. However, this famous negligence case doesn’t involve a Walmart retailer, but rather one of their truck drivers.
On June 7, 2014, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike when his vehicle was struck by a Walmart delivery truck. Morgan was traveling with his assistant Jeffrey Millea, his assistant’s wife Krista Millea, comedian Ardie Fuqua, and comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair when the car accident occurred. It turns out the driver of the truck fell asleep at the wheel and was speeding. Prior to the incident, the truck driver had been awake and driving for more than 24 hours. This was in violation of federal law intended to prevent fatigue-induced accidents.
Morgan sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), broken ribs, and a broken leg, while the Millers and Fuqua suffered various non-threatening injuries. McNair was tragically killed as a result of the car accident. His children filed a wrongful death lawsuit, for which they were awarded $10 million. Morgan, the Millers, and Fuqua followed with a personal injury lawsuit against Wal-Mart Inc. The terms of the settlement are confidential, however, it is rumored the group received a $90 million settlement check.
Famous or Not, Seek Your Free Consultation Today
Personal Injury cases can happen to anyone. From celebrities like Bret Michaels to everyday people like Stella Liebeck. And it’s cases like Escola v. Coca-Cola and Liebeck v. Mcdonald’s that prove you don’t need to be famous to win a personal injury case. They also show no one’s too small to make a difference.
By seeking legal advice for the negligence against them, both Erin Brockovich and Gladys Escola made the world just a little bit safer for the rest of us. If you’ve been injured due to the negligence of someone else, seek your free consultation today. You might not have the most famous personal injury case, but you can still ensure justice is served.