In the great American tradition, hundreds of thousands of Americans go to court each year—sometimes for the wackiest of reasons. Here are the “Best of the Bizarre” lawsuits that made the news in 2001 as deemed by Houston’s Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
1. Flaming Pop-Tart Becomes Burning Courtroom Issue
A New Jersey couple is suing the Kellogg Co., as well as appliance maker Black & Decker Corp., for $100,000 in damages, alleging that a cherry Pop-Tart they put in their toaster turned into a blowtorch and burned down their house. The couple admitted to leaving their house while the Pop-Tart was heating up, despite the warning label on the box advising against leaving food unattended in the toaster.
2. Man Who Thought He Was Dead, Sues Airlines
Scott Bender of Philadelphia sued U.S. Airways for negligence, claiming he thought the plane he was on had crashed and he was dead after the crew left him asleep on the aircraft. It was really dark, says his lawyer, and Bender “didn’t know if he was alive or dead”—it turned out the former. Now the snoozing passenger wants money for mental and emotional anguish.
3. Not So Sweet Accusation
A judge in Germany is suing Coca-Cola, claiming the habit of drinking two Cokes a day for many years caused him to develop diabetes. He is also suing MasterFoods since he ate lots of candy bars that they make—Mars, Snickers and Milky Way—and believes labels should have been put on these sugary products warning consumers of possible health risks.
4. Barking Up the Wrong Tree
In a novel lawsuit filed by the “pet guardians” of a golden retriever, an Ohio court is being asked to expand the legal status of dogs to allow the animals to sue in court. The lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $25,000 for the emotional distress suffered by the owners’ dog, Boomer who was injured by an invisible electrical fence. One can sue for harm to his or her pet but Ohio law does not allow a pet to initiate a lawsuit on its own. After all, dogs can’t testify and they certainly can’t be cross-examined. How a dog would hire an attorney is befuddling.
6. Industry Itself to Blame
Two years ago financially ruined day trader Mark Barton walked into two Atlanta office buildings and shot and killed nine people. Now lawyers argue the industry itself is to blame claiming the volatile and risky nature of the day trading business made such a violent crime foreseeable.
7. Head for the Deep Pockets
You can’t buy booze at Taco Bell; not an insignificant fact being that the sale of liquor is the cornerstone to an alcohol-related lawsuit. Nonetheless, the Fort Smith, Arkansas fast food outlet has been named as a defendant in a car accident lawsuit. It seems three Taco bell employees attended a party together on their own time. One got into a fatal accident. The lawsuit blames Taco Bell being that the three allegedly planned and bought alcohol for the party during the “course and scope of their employment at Taco Bell.
8. Emergency Donut Stop
A former Houston ambulance driver fired after he stopped for doughnuts while transporting a patient to Ben Taub Hospital filed a lawsuit against the city for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The driver, Larry Wesley, claimed that had he been white rather than black he would not have been disciplined so severely.
9. Take My Seat And It Will Cost You
A tort law professor at Pace University pulled the seat out from under one of his students in order to demonstrate personal injury lawsuits. Ironically, the student is now suing the professor for “severe mental and physical anguish for pulling the stunt”. She wants $5 million from the professor and is suing the law school as well.
10. Failed Hit
A Chicago judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Italian-American organization that accused the makers of the HBO television series “The Sopranos” of offending Italian-Americans by depicting them as mobsters. The American Italian Defense Association sued Time Warner Entertainment Co. under the “individual dignity” clause of the Illinois constitution, which prohibits hostile communications based on religion, race and other affiliations. In tossing the case the judge ruled the plaintiffs had no standing to sue since they had suffered no injury from the program.
1. Hey, That’s Not a Pumpkin You’re Carving!
A 19-year-old man filed suit against the hospital that circumcised him at birth, claiming the surgical act has made sex with partners less pleasurable than if the doctors had not removed his foreskin.
2. Firefighter Cops Assault Plea, then Pleas for Back Pay
A Hispanic Des Moines firefighter sued city officials, alleging racial bias in their refusal to give him back pay for a leave of absence after he was arrested. Firefighter David Griffith, 35, was arrested on three counts of third-degree sexual assault involving a then-22-year-old woman. The charges were dropped after Griffith pleaded guilty of assault with intent to inflict injury and harassment. The City never forced the firefighter to take the six-month leave of absence but simply granted his request.
"Unfortunately, wacky lawsuits are just the tip of the lawsuit abuse iceberg" said Houston CALA director Jon Opelt. "Junk lawsuits waste tax dollars and tie up court time. That means the rest of us pay when others use our courts for frivolous reasons. What's more, it means people with legitimate claims have to wait longer to have their case heard."
Opelt noted that often court cases take 2-3 years to be disposed in Harris County.
"We support the rights of injured parties to use the legal system responsibly in seeking fair compensation. However, some of these lawsuits are darn right absurd," said Opelt.