Famous Tort Law Cases You Should Know About

Tort law cases often involve individuals and businesses. The most famous tort law cases frequently involve thousands of victims and hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 15, 2022

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  • The most famous tort law cases can significantly affect the law and the way business is conducted
  • Tort law cases can involve individuals and companies, and there may be thousands of victims involved in a single case
  • Famous tort law cases often result in millions of dollars in financial compensation

Landmark lawsuits often set precedents for the way the law is enforced. Some of the most common lawsuits result from personal injury cases where one person or group injures another person or group. Tort law governs personal injury cases. If you are curious about tort law or personal injury basics, you might be interested in learning about some of the most famous tort law cases.

This article will look at the most famous tort law cases that you should know. We will describe the conflict background and explain how the court resolved the issues. Also, we will explore some of the most recent tort law cases influencing our society today.

Follow along to learn about some of the most famous tort law cases.

What are the most famous tort law cases?

Some of the most famous tort law cases influence future laws and suits. We refer to significant court rulings as landmark cases. 

Tort law applies to personal injury cases. Tort law cases can involve two individuals, a business, or hundreds of individuals and companies. The most famous tort law cases discussed here all involve companies’ wrongdoings that resulted in injuries to individual persons. 

The Famous Tort Law Case of Hot Coffee

One of the most famous tort law cases of the last several decades is Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants.

In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered a cup of coffee from a McDonald’s drive-thru. Liebeck’s grandson parked the car to allow her to add cream and sugar to the coffee. While Ms. Liebeck was removing the lid, the coffee spilled. Liebeck’s cotton sweatpants held the scalding coffee against her skin, resulting in third-degree burns across 16% of her lower body. 

Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days and required skin grafts. Her recovery took more than two years. 

Liebeck asked McDonald’s for $15,-20,000 to cover her medical expenses, but the company instead offered her $800. During the lawsuit that followed, the court discovered that McDonald’s heated its coffee to temperatures exceeding 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee at 190 degrees is 30-40 degrees warmer than the industry average. 

At 160 degrees, the average temperature for a home coffee maker, third-degree burns are possible in 20 seconds. At 190 degrees, it takes just three seconds for third-degree burns to appear. 

The court determined McDonald’s knew that hundreds of people, including children, were burned by its coffee every year, yet did nothing to increase safety. 

In the end, the court ordered McDonald’s to pay Ms. Liebeck $200,000 for her suffering. It also fined McDonald’s $280,000 in additional punitive damages for its reckless behavior. 

Stella Liebeck’s story is significant because it is an example of a case that revealed a larger pattern of negligence on behalf of a company.

A Famous Tort Law Case Against Big Tobacco

Another critical and famous tort law case is Cipollone v. Ligget Group. 

Rose Cipollone began smoking cigarettes in 1942 when she was 16. Cipollone died of lung cancer in 1984. Before she passed, Cipollone and her husband sued the company that manufactured the cigarettes she smoked.

During the suit, the jury found that before 1966, the company did not warn customers of the health risks of smoking. In fact, the company claimed its cigarettes were a healthy option. The jury found that the company’s advertisements established a warranty for the safety of its products. The court found this warranty inaccurate, and the company was held responsible. The court awarded Cipollone’s husband $400,000 in 1988. 

Cipollone was a landmark case. It was the first time a tobacco company lost a suit to a smoker. The lawsuit also went a long way in altering public opinion of cigarettes. Before this case, the public perception of smoking was still mixed, and many people believed that the allegations of health risks were nothing but rumors. 

A Famous Tort Law Case of Dangerous Cars

In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto became known for routinely bursting into flames when hit from behind. Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company is a famous tort law case that resulted in substantial financial awards. 

In 1972, Lily Gray and her passenger, 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw, were rear-ended by a driver going 30 miles per hour. The car exploded quickly into flames, and Gray herself died a few hours later. Grimshaw was severely and permanently disfigured, and he required skin grafts for a new nose and ear.

Following the accident, the Gray and Grimshaw families brought a tort case against Ford. The court found that Ford knowingly rushed the Pintos through production and endangered thousands of lives. 

The jury awarded $2.5 million to Grimshaw and $559,680 to the Gray family. In addition, the court ordered Ford to pay $3.5 million in punitive damages as punishment for knowingly and recklessly endangering drivers.

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Recent Tort Law Cases

There have been many significant personal injury cases in the last decade. The list of the most recent tort cases involves harmful practices by businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts.

A Recent Tort Law Case Against Predatory Lending

When he saw a TV advertisement for loans in less than 24 hours, Abe Inetianbor thought his prayers had been answered. However, he realized quickly that the loan was a predatory scheme. 

After Inetianbor repaid the loan in full, the company attempted to charge him additional interest.

The loan company disguising itself as a Tribal lender. The loan agreement stated that the parties must settle any disagreements through arbitration conducted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal court. However, the Tribe does not conduct arbitration.

Because of this discrepancy, the court denied arbitration. A jury later found that the Tribal lender was a front for a massive consumer lender. The court discovered that the company was taking advantage of thousands of people.

A 2017 settlement resulted in victims receiving a total value of nearly $30 million. The lending agency is also permanently prohibited from selling loans in Florida, and cases are pending in additional states.

A Recent Tort Law Case Against Discrimination

Our last recent tort law case is Owen Diaz v. Tesla. After working as an elevator operator for two years, Owen Diaz filed a discrimination lawsuit against Tesla. He claims he faced racial discrimination and constant harassment while working at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, CA.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) states that Tesla’s Fremont factory is racially segregated. The DFEH found that Black workers occupy the lowest level positions. They are routinely subjected to racial slurs and drawings and are given most menial and demanding tasks. 

African American employees testified that they commonly heard the n-word at the Fremont factory. Conditions were so bad that many Black workers quit. 

One of the most famous tort law cases in 2021 was when the court ordered Tesla to pay Diaz $137 million in damages. He received $7 million for emotional distress and $130 million in punitive damages. 

The verdict of this suit represents one of the most significant recent tort law cases. 

Famous Tort Law Cases in Review

The victims may pursue a personal injury case when one person or a business causes harm to another person or group through negligence, recklessness, or an intentional act. Tort law governs personal injury cases. A tort is an act that causes another person injury or harm. 

The most famous tort law cases involve court rulings that influence the law, or the way business is conducted. The verdicts can mandate companies to follow specific rules and set precedents that change the law’s enforcement. Many of the most famous tort law cases have had thousands of victims and paid out millions in damages.

If you are injured due to someone’s negligence, remember always to seek legal advice. You must do your research and find the proper attorney to get you and your family the justice you deserve.

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