Consumers spend millions each year on products that make our lives easier. But flaws in product design or manufacturing, or mistakes in packaging can result in injuries and even death.

This area of law is called product liability. When products hurt consumers, companies can be liable for those injuries and damages.

 The legal precedents for holding companies responsible for their ware can be found in 1916’s MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. The plaintiff bought a new Buick from a dealer. As he was driving, the car collapsed because a wheel had been made from defective wood. The court found that an inspection of the wheel would have found it to be defective and the automaker was negligent.


One of the most famous product liability cases is the McDonald’s coffee case. Stella Leibeck, 79, and her grandson bought coffee from a McDonald’s restaurant drive-thru. Her grandson pulled into a parking space. The car lacked cup holders and the dash was curved, so Stella put the cup between her knees and removed the lid to add cream and sugar. 

The cup fell backward and the coffee burned her Stella. The hospital discovered third-degree burns on 16% of her body, requiring multiple skin grafts, a lengthy hospital stay, and two years of recovery. She was also left permanently scarred.

Her medical bills were upwards of $10,000. McDonald’s offered an $800 settlement.

At the trial, it was discovered McDonald’s served coffee at 190° F — much hotter than the temperature of other fast food restaurants’ coffee and home-brewed coffee. There had also been more than 700 other burn claims over the past decade.

The jury awarded Stella $200,000 for her injuries, reduced by 20% because that state considered her 20% at fault. They also awarded punitive damages of $2.7 million.

If you have been harmed by a product, contact attorney Philip D. Burnett at Burnett Law in Crossville. Burnett has more than 25 years of experience in product liability and personal injury cases. He can help you fight for compensation when a company’s quest for profits results in injuries to consumers.

Contact Burnett Law for a consultation.