When it comes to stories as complicated as the law, the media’s dumbed-down headlines don’t always tell the whole story. Some court cases are famous, and other court cases are infamous, but in both cases the facts and figures behind the simple narratives are likely to surprise you when you scratch deeper than just the surface. Here are five cases that you only think you know:


1. Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants

When Stella Liebeck spilled her McDonald’s coffee in her lap, she made out like the Hamburgler. A jury awarded her $2.7 million dollars. The coffee scalded her body, leaving her with third-degree burns.

What you might not know is that Liebeck didn’t really get $2.7 million. A judge reduced Liebeck’s restorative damages award to $640,000 to cover her medical bills, as she had to undergo painful skin grafts. The remaining damages were punitive damages. Punitive damages are imposed when the plaintiff’s demonstrable damages represent an insignificant burden to the defendant, so an increased financial burden is required in order to ensure that wrongdoing isn’t repeated. And it worked – McDonald’s coffee is now served at a much more reasonable temperature.


2. Escola v. Coca-Cola

When you’re selling delicious soft drinks, watch out for explosions. Waitress Gladys Escola learned the hard way when a bottle of Coca-Cola exploded in her hand. What you might not know is that Escola was so badly injured that her cuts were five-inches deep. She suffered permanent nerve damage.

This injury litigation did us all some good. It’s one of the first cases that made manufacturers liable for defective products. Product liability injury litigation can help motivate companies to make safer products.


3. Leah Rothman v. Dr. Phil

Dr. Phil might want you to get excited about your life, but he wasn’t excited when an ex-employee sued him for false imprisonment. Leah Rothman said that Dr. Phil put all of the employees in a room to berate them about leaked information. Dr. Phil hasn’t commented on how that’s working for him.


4. Michael Jordan v. Dominick’s

Michael Jordan might get air time, but grocery store chain Dominick’s didn’t get anywhere using Jordan’s likeness in an ad campaign. Jordan walked out of court with $8.9 million. What you might not know is that the ad ran in a special edition of Sports Illustrated, and only a few people even redeemed the $2 coupon. Jordan announced plans to donate the money to charities.


5. Cedrick Makara v. Newmark Realty

Did you hear the one about the guy who got hurt going to the bathroom? It’s Makara v Newmark Realty. Cedrick Makara tried to push open a bathroom stall at the same time someone pulled on it. Makara’s recovery topped $2 million. He needed surgery and missed several months of work.


Trials and lawsuits can be surprising in their scope, their scale, their twists and turns, and their rulings. There’s basically four narratives that come out in a trial: the defense narrative, the prosecution or plaintiff narrative, the narrative that is heard and understood and believed by the court, and somewhere in the mix you may even find pieces of the truth left over. What are the facts, and how does the law apply to them? The answer to these questions are never simple. Sometimes, when it comes to blind justice, there’s more than meets the eye.



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