Personal injury and other civil cases are how individuals in our society can demand fair payment from others who are unwilling to provide it, and oftentimes a civil ruling can change how our laws are defined thanks to the precedent system. And the following cases have done exactly that:
Escola V. Coca Cola
There’s always been a certain degree of “let the buyer beware” inherent to our legal and economic systems, but over time we’ve shifted away from customer responsibility and towards manufacturer responsibility. After all, one manufacturer who makes quality products can make the world a safer place than thousands or millions of consumers who each have differing standards and differing abilities to inspect a product.
The case of Escola v. Coca Cola was an important stepping stone towards manufacturer responsibility. In 1944, Ms. Escola was putting away glass bottles of Coca Cola on a shelf when a bottle exploded for no apparent reason and lacerated Ms. Escola’s hand, causing significant bleeding and permanent damage to her nerves.
After a Coca Cola delivery driver explained that exploding bottles were common in the warehouse and after noting that the restaurant Escola worked at hadn’t done anything to damage the bottle, the jury ruled that Coca Cola had sold a defective product and that they were liable for doing so.
Negri V. Stop And Shop
While a store has an obligation to provide a safe environment for its customers, it does have some wiggle room regarding whether it could have known about a safety hazard and how fast it should respond to a problem. Stores also have some leeway when it comes to how it chooses to protect its customers.
In 1985, Ms. Negri was browsing through a Stop and Shop when she slipped in some broken bottles of baby food and hit her head. According to her complaint, the baby food should have been cleaned up so that she wouldn’t have been able to slip in it, and witnesses confirmed that the baby food must have been there from between half an hour to two hours.
However, while the jury initially ruled in her favor, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court overturned the ruling and dismissed the complaint. As it turned out, while the spilled baby food had been there for a while, so had a warning sign which Ms. Negri had either ignored or failed to see. The evidence for this was only circumstantial, but it was enough for the court to rule that Stop and Shop had done enough to keep its customers safe.
While things like “manufacturers are responsible for their goods” and “warning signs count as a form of protection” sound like common sense arguments today, they’re only common sense because of personal injury rulings like these which determined that they made the most sense. So the next time you hear about a personal injury case, remember that it and cases just like it are constantly refining what we know about fault and responsibility in our increasingly complex society.