6 Famous 'Frivolous Lawsuit' Stories That Are Total B.S.
Every so often, there's a big news story about how America is drowning in an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits, and instead of going on with boring statistics and facts -- which nobody wants to read -- they tell sensational stories about burglars suing their victims or kids suing schools because they hurt their feelings.
The problem is that most of these stories are anywhere from half-bullshit to complete bullshit. But we want to believe them, because it feels good to believe that tons of people out there are stupider and greedier than we are, and those people are what's wrong with this country today. Not us. We like outrageous villains that don't hit anywhere close to home.
People like Stella Liebeck.
The Infamous "McDonald's Hot Coffee" Lawsuit
Probably the most famous "frivolous lawsuit" example of all time. No doubt you've heard of the lady that sued McDonald's because she spilled some hot coffee in her lap while driving. What a moron! you might have thought. How stupid do you have to be to not know coffee is hot? Americans these days! Blaming everyone but themselves for their mistakes!
"This is all your fault, coffee!"
It turns out there's a lot more to the story. First of all, the hot coffee wasn't just uncomfortable and embarrassing, it gave her third degree burns over six percent of her body, which required fucking skin grafts. You can see the burns yourself if you're not squeamish.
Secondly, coffee served at that temperature (180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit) will give a person third-degree burns in two to seven seconds, while home-coffee brewers normally serve coffee at much lower temperatures (130 two 140 degrees) which won't immediately burn you. Yes, Starbucks and other joints do serve coffee at the hotter temperatures -- because some customers prefer it -- but then again, they get sued for it also. Thirdly, she attempted to settle for $20,000 at one point, and McDonald's refused, which is when she started getting cranky.
"Not my problem."
You may have heard that she got millions of dollars, when the final award was $640,000. Then from that you take out the medical bills (hint: skin grafts aren't cheap).
But she has to take some responsibility, right? She may not have been driving, but she was trying to open the lid in her lap so she could add cream and sugar. That's kind of careless, isn't it? Why couldn't the jury see that?
Well, they did. That's why the compensatory damages portion ($200,000) was reduced by 20 percent, because they ruled it was 20 percent her fault.
Imagine if paternity tests could be ruled that way.
Even the Stella Awards website -- a site dedicated to rooting out silly lawsuits and named after Stella Liebeck herself as the symbol of what's wrong with our justice system -- admits all these facts are true.
So if you still want to argue about it, you have to admit this case isn't the joke most people play it off as in email forwards and know-it-all water cooler lectures.
Mother Sues School Board Because Her Daughter Got Caught Giving Oral Sex!
Newsweek had a pretty shocking story about this in 2004: "In Kentucky, a mother sued her daughter's school after the girl had performed oral sex on a boy during a schoolbus ride returning from a marching-band contest. The woman blamed poor adult supervision, saying her daughter had been forced."
What a stupid, sue-happy lady, right? Blaming the school because she raised her daughter to be a tramp.
Woman's daughter, according to the news.
Actually, what really happened was that the school board first suspended the girl for 10 days, for clearly being such a tramp. Then, an investigation turned up the fact she was actually the victim of sexual assault -- she actually was forced.
Oops. The school got right on it -- by suspending her again; this time for not reporting the assault. So she was forced into performing oral sex, and then, as the icing on the cake, suspended twice for it. Justice!
"You kind of look like whores too. Suspensions all around!"
You can understand why a mother might want to take that to court, just to stick it to the people responsible, but part of her lawsuit also involved a demand that the school board set up employee training on how to deal with sexual assaults. Kind of a far cry from the picture of a greedy entitled American who doesn't want to take responsibility for her slutty daughter, isn't it?
All of the "Stella Awards" Cases in Email Forwards
Have you ever read about the case where a man sued a driver for running him over as he was trying to steal the driver's hubcaps? Or the woman who sued a nightclub because she fell while she was trying to sneak in the back window?
Lesson: Never pay bottom dollar for a fake ID.
There was a really popular set of six or seven of those going around in email forwards a while ago, sometimes purporting to be from the Stella Awards, which distances itself completely from those emails. Yet, if you've been at a party and had some guy go off on a rant about our crazy lawsuit-happy society, more often than not he was going by one of those emails. The vast majority of the "World's Gone Crazy!" lawsuit stories come from that pool of urban legend.
So, what if there's stupid email forwards going around, though. Nobody seriously pays attention to that shit, it just goes into the spam bin with the "Neiman Marcus cookie recipe" and the "tampons contain asbestos" crap. Right?
Also the ones about Procter & Gamble sponsoring Satanism.
Well, some people took it really seriously. Some newspapers even. The New York Daily News printed that email forward verbatim in 2002, and the owner of national news magazine U.S. News & World Report, Mort Zuckerman, cited examples from that same email about fictional lawsuits a year later to show us what's wrong with America today. When told it was fake, he published a sort-of correction that basically said, "Well, maybe these were fake but we all know this happens all the time, so what's the difference."
This is known as "implant" logic.
And that's exactly the thought process of everybody who endlessly repeats these stories. It's why the guy in the cubicle next to you is happy to tell you about the burglar who broke into a house, tripped over the coffee table and then sued the owners of the home into bankruptcy. Sure, he doesn't know exactly where that happened or where he read about it, but we all know that stuff happens, so what does it matter if that story is true? After all, this is a country where you can sue for millions if your coffee was too hot.
Lady Trips on Pothole, Sues, Whole Town Goes Bankrupt
According to this NBC Nightly News report, Sally Stewart was shopping one day in Reeds Spring, a small city near Branson, MO, when she tripped on a pothole. She sued the folksy, neighborly small town, which consequently filed for bankruptcy when they didn't have enough money to pay her award. Of course those nice folks had nothing against her but were just darn near worried to death about how to pay up, is all.
I assume the town looks like Main Street in Disneyland.
If you dig a little deeper, you'll see that the injury required surgery, and that the hole she tripped on was buried in grass at a gap in the sidewalk that the city's crosswalk was directly connected to, implying that's the official place you need to be if you want to cross the street legally. She also sued the store owners, because it was a little hazy exactly who was responsible for that shitty sidewalk gap, but the court decided it fell under the city's jurisdiction.
He also legally declared them as "total dicks."
Aside from all that, under normal circumstances, the city's insurance would have covered it and everyone could have moved on happily, but then here comes the real point of the story:
The town didn't have insurance.
That's because when Sally slipped, the mayor wasn't nice guy Dan Lade, the one wringing his hands in the NBC interview. It was Joe Dan Dwyer (city rule: all mayors have to have Dan in their name somewhere), a bit of a redneck stereotype who originally made his multimillion dollar fortune from his own personal injury settlement (a logging accident, of course). He left office under investigation for insurance fraud, as well as child porn, having sex with a 15-year-old and paying off witnesses to say the girl lied. He's the one who let the city's insurance lapse, either out of neglect or as part of one his cockamamie schemes.
There's no photo of him available but I'm picturing Rod Blagojevich for some reason.
Apparently he also passed on the opportunity to work things out reasonably with Sally. Sure, the case is old, and this blog is the only source remaining online that says the mayor met her initial attempts to settle by saying "... to collect any damage with us you will probably have to sue us" and that "the chance of us paying this without a lawsuit is practically zero." But considering what else we know about Joe Dan Dwyer, it's not too far-fetched.
So while it makes a neat moral to pin the blame on the lady and "these crazy lawsuits these days," it completely clears the biggest villain here, the child-molesting, insurance-defrauding, power-abusing asshole former mayor.
Workman Puts Ladder in Manure, Slips, Sues Ladder Company
No less a source than 60 Minutes announced this story to the world, where a workman set up a ladder with its base in some frozen manure, and as the heat of the day kicked in, his ladder slipped in the now less-frozen manure, and he fell and hurt himself, because he is an idiot. He then sued the ladder company because they didn't stop him from being an idiot -- they should have put a warning label about manure.
This story still gets repeated around the Internet even though the truth is that the ladder didn't slip, it broke. It broke with less than 450 pounds of weight on it, when it was supposedly rated safe up to 1000 pounds. Which is exactly the sort of thing you're supposed to sue about.
Man in Phone Booth Hit by Drunk Driver, Sues Phone Company
President Ronald Reagan himself told this story, in these words:
"In California, a man was using a public telephone booth to place a call. An alleged drunk driver careened down the street, lost control of his car and crashed into a phone booth. Now, it's no surprise that the injured man sued. But you might be startled to hear whom he sued: The telephone company and associated firms!"
Why, because the phone booth didn't jump him safely into another time??
First, that "injury" involved losing his right leg. Secondly, he did also sue the driver, but somehow the police managed to miss giving her a blood alcohol test at the scene, possibly (according to the defense) because her son was a police officer, whose card was right next to her driver's license in her wallet. He had enough to push for a $25,000 settlement from her and the bar that liquored her up, but with a $7,300 annual janitor's salary, and one leg missing and one leg smashed, he was still barely getting by.
Thirdly, the reason he didn't get out of the way in time, while the guy next to him did, was because the door was jammed (the other guy testified that he saw Bigbee frantically trying to open the door). While you could say it's not fair for the phone company to keep careful tabs on the safety of every booth in the city, you'd think they'd be checking this one, since it had been hit by a car 20 months ago due to being located at a dangerous intersection.
"Yeah, just put it back exactly where it was, boys."
Whether our country is falling victim to lawsuit mania or not is up for debate, but it's a debate that should be worked out with boring, but accurate, facts and statistics. The exaggerated scare stories here should be saved for the campfire, where they belong.
"All right, that hook story really got me, but wait until you hear about the poo ladder lawsuit ..."
For more Christina, check out The 8 Most Successful Politicians (Who Weren't Human) and 5 Wildly Popular Car Modifications That Must Be Stopped.