By M.Ernat The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) identify concussions as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). The actions that cause the concussion (bumps, blows, jolts to the head or body) “cause the brain to bounce around inside the skull, which...
Personal Injury Lawyers
Full Video Transcript
Have you been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault? Do you feel there’s no one on your side? At VanDerGinst Law, we help injured people day in and day out. That’s what we do. We are on your side. We know what you’re going through and we can help. We’ll make the process as easy as possible. And you won’t pay us a dime unless we get you compensation. There’s no catch, no gimmick. If you’ve been injured, we’d be honored to help call 800-960-VLAW or visit vlaw.com.
Personal Injury Lawyers/Attorneys
If you were injured on the job (also see worker’s compensation) or because of someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, a personal injury lawyer can help get you the money to which you are entitled to compensate for your lost income, medical bills, disability, disfigurement, and/or pain and suffering.
VanDerGinst Law can get you the compensation you deserve at no financial risk to you. If we don’t get you money, you don’t us owe us a dime. Perhaps as important, we make the process as stress free as possible. We take all of the work and inconvenience associated with dealing with insurance companies and medical providers out of your hands, so you can recuperate and focus on getting better.
Top Four Things That Should Matter to You Most When Selecting a Personal Injury Lawyers
Speak With Our Personal Injury Attorneys Today
1. The VanDerGinst Law Personal Injury Lawyers Make the Process Easy and Convenient
We know how devastating serious injuries can be. You may be suffering pain and incurring medical bills. You may not be able to work due to your injuries. The personal injury claims process can be agonizing, confusing and frustrating. The last thing you need is to hassle with medical providers, insurance carriers and adjusters.
Let VanDerGinst Law handle the stress and mess so you can concentrate on getting better!
We make opening a personal injury case as quick and convenient as possible. You can visit one of our convenient office locations, or if you prefer, we can come to you.
We can also open most files right on the phone or online! Video conferencing is also available!
We do whatever is reasonably necessary to open your file as quickly and easily as possible. Once we open your file, we take immediate action to investigate and position your case to get the maximum compensation you deserve.
Many law firms require injury clients to track down medical and other documents. At VanDerGinst Law our Personal Injury Lawyers and professional staff do all the work necessary to document your injuries. We obtain all the records from medical providers. We coordinate health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, medical payment insurance, and any other benefits which may apply to your case. We negotiate with the insurance adjuster and other representatives of the opposing party. We do our best to position your case for the best settlement possible. If the opponent doesn’t offer a reasonable settlement, our highly experienced personal injury attorneys are prepared to do battle in court, where we will fight hard to get you the best result.
2. Be Affordable? How about Free? If our personal injury lawyers don’t get you compensation for your injury claim, you won’t owe us a dime!
At VanDerGinst Law we handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis. That means that if we fail in getting you money for your injuries, there is NO ATTORNEY FEE. You will NEVER be out of pocket a penny. We do not get paid unless and until you do. Our fee is a percentage of the amount recovered. The percentage depends on the type of case we handle and whether the case must be litigated. But it is never more than 40% of the recovery and is usually between 20% and one third.
Additionally, even though other personal injury lawyers say they charge a contingent fee, they may also require a retainer fee for costs (for filing fees, expert fees, court reporter fees, postage, records, etc.) That can often be hundreds, even thousands of dollars. At VanDerGinst Law we charge NO RETAINER FEE on injury cases. We forward all costs necessary to pursue your claim.
3. The Personal Injury Lawyers at VanDerGinst Law Will Fight to Get You the Maximum Amount of Money for Your Injury Claim
They say a good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge! At VanDerGinst Law we know injury law. We have represented over 50,000 injury victims over the years. But we also know the judges, lawyers, medical providers, and insurance adjusters who are involved in injury claims and lawsuits!
We have made record recoveries for a variety of different types of injury cases. We have been recognized by peers, clients, and other professionals as among the best in the country in personal injury law.
We recover millions of dollars for injury victims each year. We will fight hard to get you the money you deserve!
With national resources and local connections, our personal injury attorneys can get you the maximum compensation for your personal injury claim.
Our Personal Injury Lawyers Also Have the Inside Track into The Insurance Industry. We do not, and never will, represent insurance companies, thus always ensuring that we never have a conflict of interest in representing our injury clients. But we employ former insurance adjusters and insurance defense lawyers who know the tricks of the trade. We put that knowledge to work for you!
If you have suffered serious injuries, you need a personal injury law firm that focuses on injury law, rather than a lawyer who occasionally “dabbles”. The practice of law is a lot like the practice of medicine. There are practitioners who have “general” practices and others who specialize.
At VanDerGinst Law we focus on injury law.
We are not saying that general practice lawyers cannot handle an occasional injury claim. But, if you needed brain surgery you would see a brain surgeon, not the family doctor, nor a gynecologist. By the same token, you can feel completely confident that you will be in good hands with the personal injury lawyers of VanDerGinst Law.
We can expertly handle ANY injury case that comes our way.
4. The Personal Injury Lawyers of VanDerGinst Law Will Keep You Informed Every Step of the Way
Anyone can make that kind of statement. But can they prove it? We can. VanDerGinst Law is one of the only law firms in the country to have been awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Ethics.
We have also been awarded the Client’s Choice Award from Avvo Lawyer Rating Service and the Client Champion Award from Martindale-Hubbell Attorney Rating Service.
Our personal injury attorneys can assist you with just about every type of injury related claim, including but not limited to car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, worker’s compensation, slip and fall accidents, dog attacks, injuries caused by dangerous or faulty products, medical negligence, boating accidents, plane accidents, railway accidents, construction accidents, wrongful death, and just about any other accident caused by negligence or the wrongdoing of another.
With over thirty years of experience and having represented over 50,000 injured clients, VanDerGinst Law understands what you are going through. We can relieve your worries and stress and get you the compensation you deserve.
Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer to Help with Your Claim?
You are not required to use a personal injury lawyer to handle your personal injury claim. Nevertheless, there are numerous compelling reasons why you will likely want an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.
A knowledgeable lawyer can assist with any type of accident or injury claim. He or she will know the applicable laws and how to use them to your advantage. He or she will also know the proper and reasonable value of your injury claim and will know what to do to maximize your claim to get you the money to which you are entitled.
The right injury lawyer will handle every aspect of your case including investigating and documenting your claim, gathering evidence and witness statements, if necessary. The right attorney will also gather all the necessary medical documents, bills, and lost wage information. They will also coordinate all the insurances to make sure the amount that you put in your pocket is maximized when the case is resolved.
The right injury attorney will handle all the stress so you can relax and recuperate. Additionally, the right attorney will negotiate to get you the maximum settlement and will be prepared to file a lawsuit on your behalf if that is what it takes to get you justice.
VanDerGinst Law is the legal team that can do all those things for you. A lay person simply does not have the experience, nor the leverage that comes from the ability and willingness to file a lawsuit. Insurance companies and big business interests have attorneys working for them. Let VanDerGinst Law look out for you.
FREQUENTLY ASKED PERSONAL INJURY LAW QUESTIONS
1. What Should I Do and Not Do If I Have Been Injured?
If you are able, without jeopardizing your health or safety, you should collect witness information and photos and/or video of the accident site. Of course, if necessary, contact the police or other emergency personnel. Get the proper medical attention necessary to address any acute injury as soon as possible. Do NOT sign anything for the other party’s insurance representatives. Do NOT give the other party’s insurance representatives a recorded statement.
2. Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Of course, you would expect a personal injury law firm to say “yes” to that question. Indeed, that is our short answer. But there are a lot of reasons that it makes sense for you to be represented by a personal injury lawyer when you have a claim.
First and possibly foremost, the right lawyer can make a huge difference on the amount of compensation you will recover from your claim. Insurance carriers and other big business defendants have lawyers looking out for their interests. They do not willingly give you what you are entitled to. In fact, it is the job of insurance adjusters to get claimants to settle for as little as possible. Only the leverage that can be exerted by an experienced personal injury attorney who is willing to file a lawsuit on behalf of clients, can get you the type of compensation to which you are entitled. VanDerGinst Law has that experience.
Second, why would you even want to tackle the mess associated with filling out mountains of forms and dealing with insurance people and medical providers? You need rest and recuperation from your injuries, not additional stress. VanDerGinst Law will take the worry away. We make opening a file as easy and convenient as possible. We collect the documentation necessary to pursue your case. We conduct the investigation. We deal with the insurance people and medical providers, and coordinate benefits. We negotiate and get you the best resolution possible.
Third, there is no financial risk to having VanDerGinst Law on your side. If we do not win your injury case and get you compensation, you will not owe us anything!
3. When Should You Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
If you were injured in an accident and required any type of treatment or attention to those injuries, your accident probably warrants the attention of a personal injury attorney as well. With respect to the question of how soon you should speak to a lawyer, we suggest that you contact VanDerGinst Law as soon as possible after getting the initial medical attention necessary to address your injuries.
- Do not wait until you are done treating.
- Do not wait until you have spoken to insurance representatives or adjusters.
- Do not wait until you get tired of negotiating on your own.
Adjusters set tentative values on injury claims at a very early stage. Having an experienced injury attorney on your side can ensure that those values are adjusted much higher than they would be with no attorney. Witness statements and evidence often needs to be secured at an early stage. A good lawyer will also advise you against signing medical authorization or giving recorded statements. There are just too many things that can go wrong if you do not get a personal injury lawyer onboard as soon as practicable after your injury.
4. Do I Need to File a Lawsuit to get Compensation for My Personal Injury?
Most personal injury claims can be resolved without having to even file a lawsuit. That only happens if your personal injury lawyer has shown that he or she is willing to file lawsuits and fight for justice whenever it is necessary to get the best results for clients. At VanDerGinst Law we have a long history of proving our dedication to our clients. Insurance companies know that. They know we will file lawsuits, if necessary, to get the best results.
5. Will my personal injury case go to trial?
Even if your personal injury case must have a lawsuit filed, that does not mean it will proceed all the way to a trial. Probably 95% of all injury cases are settled before going to trial. During trial preparations each side becomes more familiar with their respective strengths and weaknesses. That often results in a settlement. At VanDerGinst Law we prepare all cases as if they will go to trial. That way we can be in the best position possible to get the best settlements for our clients.
6. How are Personal Injury Damages Determined? What is my case worth?
If a personal injury attorney tells you what your case is worth after a brief conversation about your injuries, they are either misleading or misinformed. There are many factors which impact a personal injury case value. Such factors include your age, the type of accident, where you live, the nature, extent and duration of your injuries and treatment needs, the impact of your injuries on your ability to work and earn income, scarring and disfigurement, the impact on family, the nature of the defendant and their insurance and/or assets, and other considerations too numerous to mention.
If successful in showing liability in a personal injury case the damages may include any of the following which may apply:
- Past and future medical bills
- Past and future lost income
- Past and future physical and mental pain and suffering
- Past and future loss of function of mind and body
- Past and future loss of enjoyment of life
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Loss of consortium
- Out of pocket expenses
7. What is Pain and Suffering?
Pain and suffering include harm caused by physical injury and mental anguish experienced due to ancillary issues related to the accident and injuries.
8. How Much Does a Personal Injury Lawyer Cost?
At VanDerGinst Law we handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis. That means that if we fail in getting you money for your injuries, there is NO ATTORNEY FEE. You will never be out of pocket a penny. We do not get paid unless and until you do.
Our fee is a percentage of the amount recovered. The percentage depends on the type of case we handle and whether the case must be litigated. But it is never more than 40% of the recovery and is usually between 20% and one third.
Additionally, even though other personal injury attorneys say they charge a contingent fee, they may also require a retainer fee for costs (for filing fees, expert fees, court reporter fees, postage, records, etc.) That can often be hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
At VanDerGinst Law we charge NO RETAINER FEE on injury cases. We forward all costs necessary to pursue your claim.
9. What are the time limits that apply for Personal Injury Claims?
The statute of limitations is the law that limits the time in which a person must file a lawsuit. In Illinois and Iowa that time is generally two years from the date of the injury. There are very limited exceptions which may expand that time. There are also some situations which require notices be sent or lawsuits filed earlier than that two-year period. If you fail to file a lawsuit within the applicable time, you are forever barred from doing so. Therefore, it is always a good idea to get VanDerGinst Law in your corner as soon as possible.
10. If I was partially at fault can I still be compensated for injuries I sustained in an accident?
Illinois recognizes something known as “Modified Comparative Fault”. Under the Modified Comparative Fault System, each party is held responsible for damages in proportion to their own percentage of fault pro-rata, unless the plaintiff’s negligence reaches 51%.
So, if you are partly at fault your compensation will be reduced be the proportionate percentage of fault. However, if you are 51% or more to blame, then you are entitled to no compensation. Therefore, if a reasonable award were determined to be $100,000 but you were 40% at fault, your award would be reduced by 40% so that you would receive $60,000.
11. Will medical bills I incurred due to my injury accident be paid by the responsible party?
The responsible party is obligated to pay the costs for all bills for reasonable and necessary treatment. That can include medical bills, chiropractic bills, dental bills, physical therapy bills and any other similar costs.
12. What happens if the responsible party did not have any insurance coverage?
Sometimes the party responsible for causing an injury accident does not have insurance to pay for the damages or does not have enough insurance. When that happens, VanDerGinst Law leaves no stone unturned to see if a compensation source can be identified. Sometimes we can find employers and other sources who may be vicariously liable. Sometimes we can turn to our client’s own uninsured or underinsured insurance coverage. Sometimes we determine the responsible party has ample assets available outside of insurance.
TYPES OF PERSONAL INJURY CASES WE HANDLE
Personal injury lawyers focus on helping people who have been injured in any number of ways. The list and descriptions below are just a sampling of the types of cases VanDerGinst Law can help with. Never hesitate to reach out and ask if you are injured in a way not outlined here.
Car Accidents: Our personal injury lawyers can get you the best compensation for your car accident-related injuries. Even minor accidents can cause serious injuries.
Truck Accidents: Commercial trucks accidents (also known as semis, tractor-trailers, or big rigs) can cause devastating injuries. The rules that apply to truckers and tucking companies are different than typical motor vehicle accidents. To get the best recovery you need lawyers who have the experience and special education on how to handle these cases. VanDerGinst Law’s personal injury attorneys have those credentials.
Traumatic Brain Injury: Serious brain injuries can result from accidents that may seem minor. Symptoms may include headaches, memory loss, agitation, slurring, loss of consciousness and others. Proper investigation and treatment are crucial towards getting reasonable compensation for these types of injuries.
Motorcycle Accident: Motorcycle accidents often result in serious injuries or even death. Bikers are so exposed on our roadways. Our injury attorneys help bikers and their families when serious motorcycle accidents occur.
Wrongful Death Claims: Wrongful death can occur due to someone’s negligence, intentional actions, or other types of wrongdoing. We can help your family get through a tough and confusing time and get the financial recovery necessary to assist in easing some of the burden that comes when a loved one is lost.
Bus Accidents: Bus accidents may involve municipalities who can rely on governmental immunities to avoid liability. They say you cannot fight city hall. Well, we do! Every day! And we win!
Pedestrian accidents: If you or a loved one is struck as a pedestrian by a vehicle the injuries can be devastating. See what our injury lawyers can do to help.
Premises Liability: Premises liability can include any number of accident or injury causing incidents that occur on commercial or residential property.
Dog Bites: There are a lot of dog lovers. VanDerGinst Law has a lot of dog lovers. Nevertheless, if a dog attacks, serious injuries can occur. Often, compensation is necessary to address medical bills and sometimes even plastic surgery. See how our personal injury lawyers can help.
Class Action Lawsuits: VanDerGinst Law is involved in several class and mass action lawsuits. Class action lawsuits and mass tort actions are the result of many people being adversely affected or otherwise harmed by the actions or inactions of one, or a handful, of wrongdoers.
They are similar in that the grievances of a large group of people are usually consolidated into one action. However, with mass tort actions each member of the group is still treated as an individual and must prove the elements of their specific damages. With class actions the entire group is represented by a class representative and all members are treated as one plaintiff
Both, class, and mass tort actions, often arise in the context of product liability or consumer actions. Frequently, they are seen in the context of pharmaceutical or medical device litigation. Whenever the FDA mandates a new warning or a product recall is issued, there is a good chance that a mass and/or class action will follow.
Personal injury lawyers often pool their resources to pursue compensation for those who have been harmed in these situations. Not all personal injury attorneys are inclined to participate in these cases due to the drain on resources. But a good injury attorney can either handle these cases for you or refer you to a law firm who can.
Spinal Cord Injury: Spinal cord injuries can result from many different types of accidents. Serious spinal cord injuries can result in paraplegia or quadriplegia. If you or a loved one has suffered this type of injury contact VanDerGinst Law right away. Our personal injury attorneys will fight hard to get the compensation necessary to help you return to as normal a life as possible after such devastation.
Swimming Pool Injuries: Swimming pools are a great way to relax, exercise or recreate. But they can also result in slip and fall accidents and diving accidents that lead to serious injuries, or even drowning.
Slip and Fall Accidents: Slip and fall accidents can occur indoors or outdoors. They can happen at commercial properties and residential properties. They can happen on sidewalks, in parking lots and other public areas. They happen in the winter. But they also happen in the summer. They often result in serious injuries. VanDerGinst Law can help get you the compensation you deserve when faced with a slip and fall accident.
Worker’s Compensation Claims: Even if you were at fault in causing the accident which led to injuries at work, you can still be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. If you were working and doing something in furtherance of your employment you may qualify for compensation. Our injury lawyers can help you get proper compensation and explore other possible sources of compensation.
Construction Accidents: As you might imagine, construction accidents are a frequent occurrence. They can lead to serious injuries that require the attention of an experienced personal injury lawyer. Construction accidents can occur in a variety of ways. Sometimes two or more claims may arise from the same accident that caused the injuries. There may be a claim for worker’s compensation as well as potential claims against manufacturers of faulty or dangerous products (Product liability) and/or claims against other negligent parties who were not employed by the same company as the injured person.
Because of the complex issues and serious injuries that can arise from construction accidents it is always a good idea to have a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer in your corner if you have been a victim of such an accident.
Insurance Claims: Insurance claims can be made in relation to injuries from accidents. But they can also be related to other rights you may have under any insurance policy you may have. (Commercial, Homeowner’s, Health, Liability, etc.).
Medical Malpractice: Medical providers are held to a high standard of care in rendering care and treatment to patients. When they breach that standard of care the consequences can be dire. Medical malpractice refers to any situation where a treatment provider’s failure to meet the applicable standard of care then causes harm or injury to a patient. It can apply to the actions or inactions of hospitals, doctors, nurses, or any other health care professional.
Medical malpractice cases are very difficult cases for several reasons. First, they are typically complex and often require the assistance of medical experts to prove liability and damages. For that reason, they are also often very expensive to pursue. The experts often charge thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars, for their services. Further, the law treats the practice of medicine more as an art than a science and can be very forgiving when determining if there has been negligence. Additionally, juries are often very sympathetic to treatment providers due to the nature of the work they do.
A good personal injury lawyer can handle your medical malpractice claim and have the resources to finance it so that you will not need to worry about the costs associated with retaining experts. However, due to the risks and costs associated with these types of cases, not all personal injury attorneys are prepared to handle these claims.
Nursing Home Negligence: When a loved one has been neglected in a nursing home a personal injury lawyer can assist in securing compensation. Examples of nursing home negligence include failing to properly treat injuries or illness, failing to address fall risks, failing to properly turn patients to avoid bed sores and ulcers, failing to address extreme weight loss, and numerous other scenarios.
Nursing Home Abuse: When a loved one has been abused in a nursing home a personal injury lawyer can assist in securing justice. Examples of nursing home abuse include sexual abuse from residents or staff, other physical abuse from residents or staff, mental and emotional abuse, financial abuse, and other similar situations.
The list above is just a small sampling of the types of cases a good personal injury lawyer may be able to assist you with.
At VanDerGinst Law we have the experience, knowledge, and compassion to help with all these types of claims and many more. If you have been injured, we would be honored to help.
Don’t Wait to File.
Most personal injury cases have a deadline in which a lawsuit must be brought or the opportunity to do so will pass. This is known as the statute of limitations. Some injury related lawsuits also require compliance with other deadlines known as the statute of repose or other statutory notices.
It takes good personal injury lawyers time to conduct a proper investigation and prepare a claim for a lawsuit if it does not get settled out of court beforehand. Therefore, it is important that injury victims contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the injury occurs, so that the process of preparation can begin as soon as possible. That also ensures time to get the best result possible and maximum compensation.
Don’t delay. Contact VanDerGinst Law today.
Avoid Claim Shame.
Some people are afraid to file a lawsuit because they believe that we have too many frivolous lawsuits in this country, “they aren’t the suing type”, or they don’t want to put pressure on their insurance company or see their rates go up.
The truth is that you have a right to compensation if you have been wrongly injured by another.
Listen to our podcast episode about claim shame below to learn more about this dilemma, and why you should never be afraid to reach out to an attorney for help.
Full Episode Transcript
Hi, I’m Dennis VanDerGinst being an attorney, I know that the law can get confusing. In Legal Squeaks we provide you with useful and easy to understand squeaks of information on legal and consumer issues that you can apply in your daily life.
Let’s get started.
Welcome to Legal Squeaks, I’m your host Dennis VanDerGinst. Today I want to talk to you about a concept I refer to as Claim Shame.
It’s not really a legal concept. It’s more of a phenomena that I’ve observed developing over the course of more than 30 years in, in practice. And what it refers to is the reluctance of some people to pursue lawful and rightful claims that they may have against wrongdoers who’ve caused them damages, or usually they’re, the insurers of those wrong doers, or their own insurance carriers.
And the problem with this phenomena is that if you don’t use your rights, you lose your rights.
And that might seem like an alarmist thing to say, but it’s true. So I’d like to talk about why it is this mindset exists and why it’s not a good thing.
So I’m going to start by addressing the reluctance of some people to pursue wrongdoers who have caused them damages. This is usually, by the way, in the arena of personal injury cases, but it can also be in other areas of law, for instance, dealing with contracts, criminal charges, etc..
Now, certainly I agree that people shouldn’t be quick to pursue legal remedies when it’s not warranted. But too often people either presume they don’t have a valid legal argument, or they’re ashamed to pursue it.
So why is that? For some people, it might just be the way they were brought up. Their, their religion, their spiritual beliefs, the turn the other cheek mentality. But the source of this mentality, which is most troubling, is the misplaced concern that frivolous lawsuits are clogging up our court system or are the reason insurance and business costs are so high.
Now do frivolous lawsuits happen? Sure, anyone can sue anyone for anything. But there are so many checks and balances built into our civil justice system that frivolous lawsuits are typically dismissed long before they’re ever seen and heard by a jury.
And if a case gets to a jury, both sides have an opportunity to present their evidence and the overwhelming number of times the jury gets it right.
But even then, if there is concern about a runaway verdict, for instance, the defendant can exercise motions and appeals to get any wrongful judgment discounted or discarded.
So frivolous lawsuits present no real danger to our legal system. So why is it that it’s become such a concern?
The simplest answer is that big business and insurance interests have poured billions of dollars into public relations campaigns and lobbying efforts to minimize their exposure to lawsuits.
This effort is what’s been part of what’s known as tort reform or the tort reform push.
Now, tort reform refers to proposed changes in the civil justice system that aim at reducing the ability of victims to bring litigation for injury claims or to reduce the damages that they’d be entitled to receive. It really is counter intuitive with respect to our jury system.
We have juries for a reason. The juries listen to the evidence, the juries decide who’s at fault. The juries assess the kind of damages that should be awarded. The tort reform push is counterintuitive to that.
And the message of these campaigns has been focused on arguments dealing with frivolous lawsuits and jackpot justice, which is a term they’ve coined to express this notion that people file lawsuits to gain windfall, windfalls of undeserved compensation awards, again, ignoring the statistical evidence that stacked up against that notion and the very nature of our civil justice system, which provides so many checks and balances.
Now, one of the most infamous examples of this campaign was the McDonald’s coffee case from many years ago. It’s become kind of the poster child of the excessive lawsuit argument. Most of you have probably heard about the case.
The headlines were basically that some woman won millions of dollars from McDonald’s because she spilled hot coffee on herself.
And the myth was that this woman, while driving a car, holding McDonald’s coffee between her legs, spilled some coffee on herself and then, inflicted with minor burns, she sues McDonald’s as if she didn’t know that, you know, coffee’s hot and driving with it between your legs could be dangerous. And ultimately, she wins millions of dollars even though she was to blame.
Now, that was the picture that the tort reformers painted. On the surface, it certainly made for a compelling argument. I mean, how can someone get paid millions of dollars for spilling hot coffee on themselves?
Only that was not what really happened.
That was an incomplete and distorted report of the true story.
So let me give you the real facts. And what I’m going to tell you here is easy, is easily verifiable, by the way. I’ve got no hidden agenda in exposing the skewed and false reporting of this case. To borrow from the X Files, the truth is out there.
So the person who was injured was, by the way, a 79 year old woman. That really doesn’t make too much difference, but it was a sympathetic character. And she was parked in a car that her grandson was driving. So she wasn’t driving and the car was not in motion. It was parked.
And even though she may have had arguments available to her that the Styrofoam cup that she had was flimsy and hard to handle, she didn’t make any excuses along those lines.
She acknowledged that the spill was, the spill itself was her fault. What she took issue with was that the coffee was ridiculously hot, 190 degrees, which at 140 degrees, serious burns can occur. So this was near the boiling point and it was completely unnecessary to be that hot.
In addition, this wasn’t some minor injury. It caused third degree burns on her legs and her genitals, almost 16 percent of her body, nearly killing her. She had to be hospitalized for eight days.
She had to require extensive surgery and skin grafts and had permanent scarring as a result. In fact, her recovery lasted for over two years.
Her doctor testified at the trial that it was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.
Now, on the other hand, McDonald’s, at the trial, admitted that it had known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for at least and probably more than 10 years. Because from 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s coffee had burned more than 700 people, including children and infants.
Many of them had received severe, severe burns to the general area, their inner thighs, buttocks, the same area where this woman had been, sustained most of her, her injuries.
Witnesses for McDonald’s at the trial admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of these serious burns from spilled coffee. They admitted that they did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk, and they couldn’t offer any explanation as to why they did not warn people other than, I guess, the presumption that, hey, coffee can be hot.
But the coffee was so much hotter than, for instance, competitors that that’s what made, made this so, so dangerous and such a huge risk.
The McDonald’s witnesses also testified that it didn’t intend to turn down the heat. There was no plan at that point for the procedure to be changed, which, you know, that’s not necessarily something that’s going to fall in their favor when a jury is listening to their righteous indignation, is probably what they were the way that they were viewing it at the time.
McDonald’s actually admitted during the, the trial that its coffee is not fit for consumption when it sold because severe scalds can occur if it spilled or if its, its drunk at that, at that temperature.
Now, the other thing to understand is that she didn’t want to go, to court. She just wanted McDonald’s to pay the medical expenses that Medicare had not covered, which was estimated at around $20,000. McDonald’s offered her $800, which is why the lawsuit was filed to begin with.
So after hearing the evidence, the jury concluded that McDonald’s, that their handling of the coffee was irresponsible. Now, this is, again, one of those situations that wasn’t reported accurately.
It, the jury, only awarded $160,000 in compensatory damages after deciding that she had been comparatively negligent in contributing to the injuries.
In other words, they they determined that compensatory damages were worth more, but they discounted it because she was the one who admitted spilling on herself.
But then it awarded punitive damages, and punitive damages are designed to punish. So they wanted to punish McDonald’s for its callousness, knowing that over 700 people had been severely burned before. Yet they didn’t do anything about it and they weren’t planning to do anything about it going forward.
They were upset. The jury was upset, so they assessed $2.7 million in punitive damages.
Now, that $2.7 million basically represented two days coffee sales for McDonald’s. That’s how it was arrived at. In that context, it certainly didn’t seem like it was that outrageous. But as I said before, there are checks and balances in our civil justice system. So McDonald’s argued that the punitive damages was excessive and the judge reduced the final verdict to $600,000.
Still not good enough, McDonald’s intended to appeal, which likely could have been drug out beyond her life expectancy because she was elderly. So they ended up settling the amount for an undisclosed amount, but it was certainly far less than the $600,000.
So, as I said, the civil justice system works very well usually. Here, a jury found that the evidence presented on her behalf was compelling. What it did in response, when put into that context, made a lot of sense and represented only a very modest punishment of McDonald’s. And further, when the argument was made that the jury’s verdict was excessive, that problem was appropriately addressed by the trial court who substantially reduced it.
So how is it that the public’s view of this case got so warped? Well, essentially, greedy corporate interests spent years running a disinformation campaign along with a lot of money, which much of the media bought into holding up the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit as an example of this supposed epidemic of frivolous lawsuits.
The case obviously has become the target of countless jokes since then. And people have embraced the idea of people making mountains out of molehills and trying to get money for nothing.
And it’s that perception that has become the pervasive mindset of a lot of Americans to the point where it’s eroded a lot of confidence in the system and led to the spread of this attitude that I referred to, this attitude of Claim Shame.
As an injury attorney, I can’t tell you the, the many times, the countless times that people have come to me, at the end of their rope, almost apologizing for asking, you know, the need to ask for help because they have become ashamed to pursue legal remedies due to this type of conditioning that they’ve undergone via media persuasion and lobbying efforts influenced by interests who simply want to minimize their own lawsuit exposure.
I hear from so many people who come to see me about injury claims that, you know, I’m not the suing type. Most people don’t even realize that when you take an injury claim to an attorney, it isn’t typically going to immediately be filed as a lawsuit.
Most injury cases are negotiated and settled before even having to file a lawsuit.
And those cases that do have to get filed as a lawsuit, only a small portion of those actually go to trial because they, too, eventually get settled. Most of them, once the parties have an opportunity to do some investigation and discover the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases.
Yet people remain either jaded or ashamed to look into their own rightful remedies for harm that they suffered due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another.
And this, this attitude can impact juries as well, because often there are jurors who come into a case skeptical of the motivation of the injured person. Fortunately, that bias can often be overcome if they’re willing to at least listen to the evidence with an open mind.
Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, there’s, there’s also often a reluctance people have to pursue claims with their own insurance carriers, and they usually offer 2 explanations as to why, that is. Why they don’t want to file a claim with their own insurance carrier.
The first one is because it’s not their fault. They shouldn’t have to pay for it. Their insurance company, shouldn’t have to pay for it.
The second one, the second reason that they don’t want to pursue their own insurance company is because they don’t want their insurance premiums to go up.
So let’s, let’s talk about those reasons.
The first one, you know, please don’t feel sorry for your poor insurance company. Net premiums in the last couple of years have exceeded a trillion, with a T, dollars in the insurance industry.
You pay for your premiums for a reason. If there’s, by the way, if there’s another party that’s responsible for your injuries, your insurance company’s going to have a subrogation right. That means that they’re going to be entitled to recoup all or at least some of what they paid on your behalf. So, again, please don’t feel sorry for them.
In addition, sometimes using your own health insurance or other insurance coverages, for instance, in, in car accidents, that that can provide the quickest and most convenient way to get the necessary treatment you need, or in the case of car accident cases, it can get you the vehicle repairs or replacement or a rental while the other party is still investigating.
Plus, when you use your own carriers, under certain scenarios, a good lawyer can coordinate your benefits in using those coverages so that it eventually enhances the amount of money that you’re going to get in your pocket when the case is settled.
So the second reason may warrant a little more consideration, at least when it comes to concern over auto insurance premiums rising if you make a claim.
Now, normally, depending on the state that you’re in or the state where you have your insurance contract, you’re not going to see a premium rate increase if you make a claim when you’re not at fault.
Now, that’s not that that can’t happen, but normally it doesn’t. And you can always find another carrier if it does, because, again, if you need the coverage, you need the coverage. That’s what you pay the premiums for. So take advantage of that.
So there’s one more area where we often see Claim Shame exhibited, and that’s in those situations where an injured person feels that they caused or contributed to the accident and therefore they’re not deserving or entitled to any compensation.
But that’s not always the case. As we discussed with the McDonald’s coffee case, a person can cause the accident, yet not be responsible for the extent of the injury, In that situation, she admitted to, you know, being at fault in spilling the coffee, but she certainly shouldn’t have, nor was she found to be accountable for the extent of the injuries. That was on McDonald’s.
Also, the law recognizes that when accidents happen, it’s not always 100% the fault of one party or the other.
There can be an apportionment of fault between all the parties. Some states recognize what’s known as contributory comparative or modified comparative fault, which limits the rights of an injured person to recover in a pro-rata relation to their own percentage of fault.
So if a jury hears all the evidence that the injured person was 10% to blame, his or her recovery would be discounted by 10%.
So, for instance, slip and fall accidents, often it’s a combination of fault there. People need to watch where they’re going. They know that there’s, there’s ice in the location they’re, they’re walking, so they have to be careful. They have to watch where they’re going to have to be careful of how they walk, what kind of shoes they’re wearing, et cetera.
But it might also be that the either the snow or ice existed for such a period of time or was created in such a manner that the property owner is also to blame, to some extent.
A jury might hear that testimony and decide, well, we feel that the injured person was at least 20% at fault. They should have taken better care of of how they were walking in that area during that period of time. But they may have decided that, you know, reasonable compensation for the type of injuries was $100,000.
Well, under a comparative fault state, that hundred thousand dollars would be reduced by 30%. So the injured party would still get $70,000.
Now, there’s a very extreme theory of law called contributory negligence, where if you are at fault at all, you get nothing. I think that’s only in one state, I think it might be Louisiana.
But there are other states that have modified the comparative fault rule, which basically would say then they’d have that same reduction under the scenario that I just described, where if it’s anything less than 50 percent, it’s going to be reduced by that amount in the amount that remains will be something that the injured party would be entitled to for compensation. But the moment they hit that tipping point, if a jury decides that the person is more than 50 percent at fault in these modified comparative fault states, they get nothing.
So the point is that even if you were partly to blame in causing an accident, you might still be entitled to a recovery. And in fact, in workers’ compensation scenarios, you’re entitled to benefits even if you’re completely to blame, as long as you were injured at the time that you were, at the time you were injured, you were working and in furtherance of that employment.
These are laws that were put in place for the general well-being of the public. So you need to be, you need to feel entitled to take advantage of your rights to compensation. They’re intended for everyone’s benefit. Don’t be a victim of Claim Shame.
So thank you for tuning in.
Please be sure to subscribe and like us, also check out legalsqueaks.com to suggest future topics and leave comments.
Also, be sure to check out our other podcast, Uncommon Convos. I hope you’ll tune in next week. Until then, have a great day. Stay safe. And I love you all.
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