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Personal Injury Lawsuits—Not Just in it for the Money

An unfortunate stigma surrounds personal injury lawsuits. Many people assume that anyone who files a personal injury claim is just in it for the money. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Realistically, personal injury suits are the only way for many people to obtain compensation after being injured by someone else's negligence. Today, we're taking a look at how personal injury lawsuits actually work, and dispel the myth that personal injury claims are often illegitimate.

Fact Check: Are Personal Injury Suits an Easy Way to Make a Quick Buck?

People who push the narrative that personal injury claims are an easy way to make a quick buck often use various examples, like the famous "McDonald's coffee case."

On February 27, 1992, a 79-year-old woman named Stella Liebeck accidentally spilled hot coffee she just got from McDonald's, burning herself. She then sued McDonald's and was awarded $3 million by a court. Or so people think.

People often bring up this personal injury lawsuit as an example of a big settlement, and usually, say something like "she got three million just for spilling coffee on herself! I bet it wasn't even that hot."

The truth about Stella Liebeck's case couldn't be more different.

She suffered burns over 16% of her body and needed intensive medical procedures, including skin grafts, to address her injuries.

Additionally, McDonald's knew its coffee was too hot. The company received almost 700 complaints about the temperature of its coffee prior to the case. McDonald's served coffee at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that caused third-degree burns within five seconds.

Finally, Mrs. Liebeck received far less than $3 million when all was said and done. A Jury did award her $2.7 million in punitive damages, but a judge reduced that award to $680,000.

McDonald's then appealed the case. Mrs. Liebeck and her attorney knew that McDonald's would just keep appealing the case, effectively keeping it frozen in the legal system—something Mrs. Liebeck couldn't afford.

In the end, Mrs. Liebeck ended up settling out of court with McDonald's for less than $500,000, just enough to pay her medical bills, legal fees, and have some left over.

Of course, saying "a woman suffered horrific burns due to a company's explicit negligence and barely got enough money to pay for her medical and legal expenses" isn't quite as exciting as claiming "a woman got $3 million just because she spilled coffee on herself."

The narrative around personal injury cases often gets twisted to put the injured individual in a bad light. In truth, many personal injury cases turn out like Mrs. Liebeck's.

Most personal injury lawsuits are for a relatively small amount of money—just enough to cover the injured person's medical expenses and other damages they incurred as a result of the accident (lost wages, etc.).

Personal injury suits that are for a lot of money tend to be filed against a major corporation, like McDonald's—but those suits are also incredibly difficult to win.

Companies like McDonald's or wealthy individuals can afford to continually appeal the outcome of a personal injury suit, effectively freezing it in the legal system and forcing the injured individual to settle out of court (like Mrs. Liebeck) if they want to receive compensation promptly.

In other words, don't make the mistake of assuming a personal injury suit is a one-way ticket to financial freedom. Personal injury suits that provide exponential payouts are rare—most personal injury claims simply allow the injured person to recover some semblance of normalcy or financial stability.

Why Do I Need a Lawyer When I've Got Insurance?

Many people also assume that, because they have insurance, there's no need to bring a personal injury lawyer onto their claim.

The truth is, insurance companies are just that—companies. They're looking out for their bottom line.

Many people find that they actually have to fight their insurance company to receive adequate compensation for their personal injury. Insurance companies are notorious for requiring extensive documentation in personal injury claims and trying to settle for less than the claimant deserves.

That's where a lawyer comes in. A personal injury lawyer can help hold an insurance provider accountable. They're familiar with personal injury and insurance laws, so they can protect you from signing a bad deal. They can also help you gather evidence and build a strong personal injury suit that helps guarantee you get what you deserve from your personal injury suit.

At Elliot Reiner APLC, we help injured individuals get the financial compensation they deserve.

To schedule a consultation with our personal injury lawyer, contact us online or via phone at (916) 778-3228.

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