Personal Injury Case Study
The following product liability article discusses a case where a child is burned by a defective toy. It reviews important legal issues including the incident, strict liability, special damages, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
Lori received her daughter Maggie's Christmas list on which she wrote Polly Palooza. This was a brand new battery operated doll that was nearly impossible to find but worth searching for. On Christmas eve, Lori watched as Maggie opened the Polly Palooza. She installed the batteries and began to play with it according to the packaging directions.
The special thing about Polly was that she walked and talked just like a miniature girl. Polly Palooza was about the size of a regular doll, approximately 12 inches tall and medium width.
Maggie asked her mom if she could sleep with the doll and seeing no problem with that, Lori agreed. In the middle of the night, a connector in the back of the doll ignited and the doll caught fire, which also ignited a portion of Maggie's pajamas.
This is a classic products liability case. The mechanism that caused the doll to walk and talk was not properly designed or tested which caused it to ignite.
While you cannot point to anything malicious, products liability does not require that standard. Rather, these cases are held to a strict liability standard meaning that you do not have to prove negligence, fault or intent.
If the product, when used for its designed purpose, causes damage such as this then the product designer, manufacturer and distributor can be held strictly liable for any injuries that result.
Maggie's pajama's caught fire. Fortunately they were made of anti-flammable fabric and it was quickly extinguished, but not before causing second degree burns to her stomach and upper chest.
Maggie's mother called 9-1-1, however due to their remote location in the country it would have taken a very long time for EMS to reach their home. Maggie's mother bundled her into the car and drove the 42 minute drive to the closest hospital.
Not equipped to handle pediatric burns, Maggie had to be transported to another facility 3-hours away. They decided to take her by life flight (even though her injuries were not life threatening) to get her there quickly. Maggie was treated and released two days later, but had to spend Christmas in the hospital.
Maggie's mother did not have medical insurance. Her bills were $12,000 for the life flight, $4,000 for the ER visit and $24,000 for her treatment in the pediatric burn unit. Aside from seeing her doctor two additional times, Maggie had a complete recovery.
Maggie did not have medical insurance, therefore the medical bills of $40,000 were left unpaid. Maggie's mother was unclear of how to handle the expenses and unfortunately she was referred to collections for failure to pay her daughter's medical bills.
One of the collection attorneys learned that her medical bills were caused by a faulty doll and without obligation, referred her to a products liability attorney with whom he had attended law school.
He also agreed to put the collections on hold for 30 days to give her time to speak with counsel. Her new attorney contacted the product manufacturer and began the process of submitting a personal injury claim for $200,000.
After 18 months and severely damaged credit, the case settled for $100,000. This covered the medical bills and fees associated with collections in the sum of $5,800.
The court approved a 20% contingency fee to the attorney and the payment of medical bills and collection fees from Maggie's settlement. The remainder was placed in an interest bearing account for Maggie's benefit.
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