Approximately 52,542 civil cases were filed in Georgia state courts in 2016, and approximately 53,337 reached a disposition, which simply means they reached a conclusion. These cases involve many different areas of law such as personal injury law, contract law, or probate law, but they do involve some common characteristics one of which is usually the award, or lack thereof, of money or property at the conclusion of each case. Due to this, one of the most common question posed to personal injury lawyers in Atlanta is “How much is my claim worth?” but you will undoubtedly be given a response of “It depends.”
This scenario is only exacerbated by the shear size of some of the awards that are granted by juries in civil cases. For example, in 2005 the Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed the awards 26,948 civil cases in state courts across the country, they found that 56% of the cases ended in favor of the plaintiff, and the average award was $28,000 with 4% of the cases ending in an award of $1,000,000 or more. Due to this, the tendency of individuals and lawyers to focus on the value of a case is very common. Therefore, we as lawyers who practice personal injury law in Atlanta find it beneficial to inform our clients of how a case’s value is calculated.
How is a Claim’s Worth Calculated?
Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants was a famous product liability case that was decided in 1994 by a trial court in New Mexico, and it is still one of the best known product liability cases of that decade. Stella Liebeck was a 79 year old woman who had purchased a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive through in 1992. While the car was stopped, Ms.Liebeck opened the lid and went to put cream in her cup of coffee. The cup accidentally tipped over and the contents were spilled in Ms.Liebeck’s lap. She later sued McDonald’s, and was awarded $200,000 for medical expenses and pain and suffering, which was reduced to $160,000 by the trial court judge. Additionally, she was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, which was later reduced by the trial court judge to $480,000.
This case is often misunderstood for many reasons, but it demonstrates very clearly how a value is assigned to a civil case. McDonald’s lost this case, because they were heating there coffee 20 to 30 degrees hotter than most restaurants in their industry. McDonald’s required employees to keep their coffee between 180 to 190 degrees fahrenheit. At that temperature, spilled coffee could cause third degree burns within three to seven seconds with clothes on, which is exactly what happened in Ms.Liebeck’s case. Moreover, there were over 700 cases of other people including children being severely burned by the coffee served at McDonald’s, but despite this, McDonald’s continued serve the coffee at extremely hot temperatures.
Damages in a Civil Case in Atlanta
A portion of the award in Liebeck was due to medical expenses. Ms. Liebeck suffered third degree burns to 16% of her body. She was hospitalized for eight days and had to receive skin grafts, hence the rather substantial award. Undoubtedly, going through this type of treatment and enduring through such a serious injury involved a large amount of pain and suffering, which further contributed to the amount awarded to Ms. Liebeck. These are known as compensatory or “actual” damages and are normally associated with hard data such as medical bills or medical records to demonstrate the extent of a plaintiff’s injuries and the amount of medical bills they incurred. Other types of compensatory damages include lost wages and emotional distress.
Punitive Damages in a Civil Case in Georgia
The other more substantial portion of the award in Liebeck was due to punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant and deter them from repeating their actions in the future. In Georgia specifically, you have to prove through clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff acted in a manner that showed willful misconduct, malice, or in a way that would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to the consequences of their actions, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1.
The combination of the different types of damages that apply in each case determine the case’s value. When a personal injury lawyer estimates a case’s value, they are essentially estimating the value of both past and present damages that are applicable to your unique scenario.
Personal Injury Lawyer in Atlanta
At Cambre and Associates, our personal injury lawyers work to maximize the value of each case by thoroughly evaluating the damages our clients have incurred as a result of an accident. We pride ourselves on providing aggressive representation that is used to reach the best possible outcome in every case. So call our office today for a free consultation to find out how a personal injury lawyer can help you.