Both are personal injury law cases that resulted in improved public safety!
A recent article in The New Yorker about the new tort museum and attorney and activist Ralph Nader invited me to ponder how personal injury law makes lives better for American citizens.
From a fatal workplace accident that involved gasoline, a gas heater, a 19-year old man, and a rat that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, we learned that companies have a duty to protect their employees. And everyone is familiar with the McDonald’s hot coffee case, which revealed that the fast food giant kept their coffee at 185 degrees. That is hot enough to cause second-degree burns, so that it would stay hotter longer than Burger King’s cup of joe. While there are now labels cautioning customers to remember they’re handling a hot liquid, the coffee is also kept at cooler temperatures. Both results may not have happened had their not been a tort case filed.
Here’s why I became a personal injury lawyer. The year was 1991 and I was away from home at my first year of Law School. My mom called me one night to say she’d been burglarized. She was both scared and understandably upset. I naively told her that her homeowners insurance would compensate her for her stolen items.
As it turned out, the insurance claims process was more difficult for my mom than the break-in itself. They forced her to jump through many unnecessary hoops and tried to low ball her for each stolen item. Though she had been loyal to them for over 20 years, her insurance company still treated her like she was the one who had something wrong.
I did everything I could but being young and inexperienced at the time, I didn’t know what could be done to force the insurance company to treat my mother fairly and to fully compensate her for her losses. We both felt helpless to at the company’s “take it or leave it” attitude.
Over the past 20 years, I have made it a mission to learn how to level the playing field for people in situations just like my mom’s. In a courtroom, insurance companies have to answer to a jury of citizens, not shareholders. While most cases don’t end up going to trial, it’s necessary to have leverage of a trial to force the company to treat people fairly and compensate them accordingly.