Laying Down the Law: A Brief Look at Some Unorthodox and Outlandish Lawsuits
Unless you’ve been absent from the earth these last two decades, you’ve probably caught wind of some of the amazing and oftentimes ridiculous lawsuits that have been filed by cranky litigants.
Beyond the now infamous McDonald’s coffee spill lawsuit, there are many other tales of the legal unexpected that have come to light over the years through diligent media reporting.
Imagine suing your university because you couldn’t get employment with your degree, or suing yourself and asking the state to front your payment! Read on to find out about the lawsuits arising from coffee spills to beer ads.
1. Beer Catastrophe
Plenty of beer ads show men enjoying themselves in stereotypically masculine ways, often on the beach and often surrounded by women.
What most people would readily concede is that these ads aren’t representative of reality, and that most male beer-drinkers do not automatically end up on a beach, flanked by women.
In 1991, Richard Overton sued company Anheuser-Busch, claiming that their ads misleadingly implied drinking beer would lead to a man having fun with multiple women.
His claim rested on the grounds that he had suffered emotional distress, mental injury and financial loss from the deceptive advertisement. Unsurprisingly, his case was dismissed.
2. Namesake Controversy
When Robert Craft changed his name to ‘Jack Ass’ in 1997 as part of an effort to raise awareness about drunk driving, you could be forgiven for questioning his sensibleness and decision-making skills.
But when, three years later, he sued Viacom for putting on the hugely successful MTV show Jackass, it seems that all his sense went flying out the window.
Claiming that he had suffered emotional injuries and defamation as a result of the show and its content, one might wonder if a lot of the defamation and injury Craft suffered occurred prior to the show and was a result of his own name change!
3. Michael Jordan Doppelganger Disaster
If you thought you’d heard it all, you certainly haven’t. In 2006 Allen Heckard sued Michael Jordan on the grounds that he had suffered emotional distress and injury from being physically reminiscent of the basketball star.
Claiming that people all around the areas he frequented accosted him, and that his basketball playing style was constantly compared to Jordan’s, Heckard demanded that Jordan pay him $416 million dollars in damages for the stress of being compared to the star.
In a bizarre dimension to the story, Heckard apparently wore Nike Air shoes, the same as the kind worn by Jordan, yet thought it was unfair that people were comparing the two.
With little prospects in the complaint and the monumental amount claimed in damages, Heckard was eventually convinced to drop the suit.
4. Finger Trouble at Wendy’s
In an unpleasant lawsuit that later turned into a fraud investigation, Anna Ayala sued fast food giant Wendy’s on the grounds that she bit into a one and a half inch finger while consuming a meal.Later tests revealed that while the object was indeed a finger, it didn’t show any trace of the litigant’s saliva and, although it appeared in a cooked meal, did not appear to have been heated in any way.
Ultimately it turned out that Ayala had planted the finger in her food, and had gotten it from a co-worker who sold it to her husband after losing it in a work accident.
So what started out as a seemingly legitimate claim turned into a criminal investigation, with Ayala sentenced to nine years prison and her husband to 12 years for his role in the scam.
5. Judge Rages at Laundromat
In what could be called a case of ‘should’ve known better’, a judge relentlessly pursued tens of millions of dollars in damages against a dry-cleaners in Washington DC for misplacing his pants.
The judge claimed that since the pants were missing, the store failed to fulfill its contractual undertaking to provide ‘same day service’ and its guarantee of ‘customer satisfaction’, meaning that it was liable for breach of contract.
Ultimately the case was thrown out of court, but not before the judge lost his job for acting in a manner not befitting his role, and the laundry storeowners had to close two of their three shops to cover their legal costs.
6. Suing Yourself
In 1995 a prison inmate in Virginia sued himself for having consumed alcohol and therefore abrogated his own religious obligations. Since he was penniless, the inmate requested that the state go as his guarantor and pay him five million dollars on behalf of himself for ‘violation’ of his religious beliefs’.
Of course as you could guess the case was thrown out, but the judge in court seemed impressed with his unorthodox approach to the concept of suing in general, and gave him written kudos for this.
7. Stella Liebeck
Last but not least, we have Stella Liebeck and the case of the spilled boiling coffee.
In 1992 Liebeck was driving in her car when she spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on herself, causing third degree burns to her body that requires skin grafts to fix. Successful in her claim, Liebeck is often considered the pioneer of ludicrous lawsuits, since she ultimately received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the court.
However, the ludicrousness of her claim is subject to some debate, as McDonald’s was clearly offering potentially dangerous items to people in selling boiling coffee.
Fair or otherwise, it’s hard to say, but Stella Leibeck certainly seems to be the most justified litigant of all those we’ve just seen!
This post was done in partnership with Firths Compensation Lawyers.