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5 Famous Personal Injury Cases That Made Headlines

Have you ever wondered why some personal injury cases captivate an entire nation? Personal injury cases are one of the most common legal cases filed in courts. These cases often involve grievous injuries, death, loss of income, and medical expenses.

While most personal injury cases are settled out of court, some make the headlines because of their peculiarities, high-profile parties, or significant settlements. Continue reading as our Atlanta personal injury lawyer team shares five famous personal injury cases that have made headlines over the years.

If you or a loved one have experienced a personal injury, call Greathouse Trial Law today at (678) 310-2827. Let us be your trusted advocate. Because in times of hardship, you don’t just need a lawyer – you need a compassionate partner who will fight tirelessly for your best interests.

1. The Scalding Coffee Saga: Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants (1994)

Background of the Case

You think your coffee is hot? Try spilling it on your lap. In 1994, Stella Liebeck did just that, spilling a cup of McDonald’s coffee and suffering third-degree burns in the process. The coffee, brewed at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit (considerably hotter than coffee made at home), became a legal firestorm.

However, what many people don’t know is that Liebeck’s injuries were severe. She suffered third-degree burns over 16% of her body, requiring multiple skin grafts and extensive medical treatment.

Court’s Decision

After the court case, it was revealed that McDonald’s had received over 700 previous reports of customers suffering burns from their hot coffee.

The initial jury award of $2.86 million was significantly reduced due to a finding of comparative negligence, where Liebeck was deemed partially responsible for her injuries.

Impact of the Case

This case sparked a nationwide debate about product liability. However, despite the high-profile incident involving Stella Liebeck in 1994, it appears that McDonald’s has yet to learn from its past mistakes. In a recent lawsuit, another individual has come forward, claiming to have suffered burns from ‘scalding hot’ McDonald’s coffee due to an improperly secured lid.

This case serves as a stark reminder that product safety and customer well-being should remain paramount, urging companies to take necessary precautions and avoid repeating history.

Resources: “Storm Still Brews Over Scalding Coffee” and “Calculating the optimum temperature for serving hot beverages

2. A Fiery Disaster: Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co. (1978)

Background of the Case

Imagine driving in your car, only for it to explode upon a rear-end collision. This was the horrifying reality for Lily Gray and 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw in their Ford Pinto. Gray tragically lost her life, and Grimshaw endured severe burns that required numerous surgeries.

During the course of the case, it was discovered that Ford Motor Co. was aware of the design flaws in the Pinto, which made it prone to fuel tank explosions in rear-end collisions.

Shockingly, internal Ford documents showed that they calculated it would be cheaper to pay off potential lawsuits than to recall and fix the vehicles.

Court’s Decision

The jury awarded Grimshaw $128 million in damages ($2.5 million compensatory and $125 million punitive damages) – later reduced to $3.5 million.

Impact of the Case

This case sparked nationwide debates over automobile safety and manufacturers’ duty of care to their consumers, influencing the design and safety measures of future car models.

Resource: American Museum of Tort Law

3. Rock Star Down: Bret Michaels v. CBS (2009)

Background of the Case

As the frontman of the rock band Poison, Bret Michaels knew the risks of performing. But he didn’t sign up for an on-stage injury. After his performance at the 2009 Tony Awards, Michaels was struck by a descending stage prop, leading to a broken nose, a split lip, and three stitches.

In the aftermath of the accident, it was discovered that Bret Michaels had actually requested that the descending stage prop be lowered more slowly. However, due to miscommunication, the prop descended at an unsafe speed, resulting in his injuries.


The accident resulted in a lawsuit against the event organizers and CBS, claiming they didn’t provide proper instructions for exiting the stage. The case was settled at an undisclosed amount.

Impact of the Case

Michaels’ case highlighted the potential dangers that performers face and emphasized the responsibility of event organizers to ensure safety.

Resource: Bret Michaels, CBS Settle Lawsuit Over Tony Awards Injury

4. The Woman Attacked by a Chimpanzee: Charla Nash v. Sandra Herold (2009)

Background of the Case

In 2009, a horrific incident occurred in Stamford, Connecticut, when Travis, a 200-pound chimpanzee, attacked Charla Nash, a friend of the chimp’s owner, Sandra Herold.

The vicious attack resulted in life-altering injuries for Nash, including the loss of her eyes, nose, and parts of her face, leaving her severely disfigured.

Legal Proceedings and Settlement

Charla Nash filed a lawsuit against Sandra Herold, alleging negligence in failing to prevent the attack and allowing a dangerous animal to be kept as a pet. The case highlighted the ethical concerns surrounding the ownership of exotic animals.

While the case did not proceed to trial, in 2012, Charla Nash reached a $4 million settlement with Sandra Herold’s estate to cover medical expenses and ongoing care.

Impact of the Case

The tragic incident involving Charla Nash brought attention to the dangers of keeping wild animals as pets. The case also sparked discussions about the need for stricter regulations regarding ownership and safety precautions.

The case served as a catalyst for legislative efforts aimed at prohibiting private ownership of certain exotic animals in various states.

Resource: $4 million settlement in chimp attack lawsuit

5. A Comedian’s Nightmare: Tracy Morgan v. Walmart (2014)

Background of the Case

In June 2014, a devastating accident unfolded on the New Jersey Turnpike involving a Walmart truck and a limousine carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and several others. The collision resulted in a multi-vehicle pile-up and caused the tragic death of comedian James McNair, known as Jimmy Mack. Tracy Morgan, along with two others, suffered critical injuries as a result of the accident.

Following the accident, Tracy Morgan spent several days in a coma and underwent extensive rehabilitation. He suffered a series of injuries, including a broken leg, femur, nose, and ribs. The truck driver hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours, violating federal trucking regulations.

In an incredible show of support, his fellow comedian and close friend, Jimmy Fallon, visited him regularly during his recovery.

Settlement Details

Morgan filed a lawsuit against Walmart, accusing the company of negligence. In 2015, Walmart settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount, rumored to be around $90 million.

Impact of the Case

This case emphasizes the need for companies to ensure their employees, particularly those operating heavy machinery or vehicles, are adequately rested.

Resource: Dangers of Drowsy Driving in Light of Tracy Morgan Accident

Comparative Study

To gain a better understanding of the famous personal injury cases that made headlines, let’s compare some of their key elements:

Case Year Nature of Injury Parties Involved Settlement/Verdict
Stella Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants 1994 Third-degree burns Stella Liebeck, McDonald’s Restaurants Initially awarded $2.86 million, later reduced
Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co. 1978 Severe burns and fatalities Richard Grimshaw, Lily Gray, Ford Motor Co. $2.5 million compensatory, $125 million punitive damages (later reduced)
Bret Michaels’ v. CBS 2009 Broken nose, split lip Bret Michaels, event organizers, CBS Settlement reached, specific amount undisclosed
Charla Nash v. Sandra Herold 2009 Facial disfigurement, severe injuries Charla Nash, Sandra Herold $4 million settlement reached
Tracy Morgan v. Walmart 2014 Severe injuries, including fractures Tracy Morgan, Walmart Settlement reached, amount rumored around $90 million

While each case involved personal injuries, the nature of the injuries, the parties involved, and settlement/verdict outcomes varied significantly. This comparison showcases the diverse range of personal injury cases and their unique circumstances.

Fight for Your Rights with Greathouse Trial Law

If you or your loved ones have been injured due to someone else’s negligence, it’s time to fight for your rights. Just because your case may not make the headlines, your pain shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. At Greathouse Trial Law, our team of seasoned personal injury attorneys in Atlanta is prepared to guide you at every step of your case.

With a reputable track record, Greathouse Trial Law has become a trusted name in personal injury litigation. Our Atlanta personal injury lawyer team is committed to ensuring you receive compensation for your injuries. Whether it’s negotiating with insurance companies or presenting your case in court, we fight relentlessly for your interests.

Contact Greathouse Trial Law today because you don’t just need a lawyer; you need an advocate. Let us be your trusted partner. Contact us for a FREE consultation at (678) 310-2827 to speak with an Atlanta personal injury attorney. If more convenient, complete our online form.

Copyright © 2023. Greathouse Trial Law, LLC. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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Riah Greathouse, Esq.

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