In the great American tradition, hundreds of thousands of businesses and individuals go to court each year—sometimes for the wackiest of reasons. Here are the “Best of the Bizarre” lawsuits that made the news in 2002 as deemed by Houston’s Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
1. Our mistake, we thought you were the offender
A convicted rapist has sued the hospital where he raped a patient in her bed, saying the hospital failed to protect visitors and patients, allowing him to commit the crime. The man is seeking $2 million from the hospital for his “pain and suffering”.
2. The deep pockets did it
Sixteen year-old middle school student Nathaniel Brazill was sentenced to 28 years in prison for shooting to death his favorite teacher. In the subsequent civil trial, the Florida jury amazingly found Brazill innocent of any liability. Instead, the jury placed the blame on the school board, the gun’s owner and the gun distributor. The jury said the school board was guilty for allowing Brazill on campus with a gun in his pocket, the gun distributor was guilty for not placing a safety lock on the gun preventing Brazill from pulling the trigger, and the gun owner was guilty of leaving the gun unlocked and loaded, allowing the boy to steal it. Apparently the jury figured pulling the trigger did not lead to the teacher’s death.
3. Quadriplegic sues strip club over wheelchair access
An Orlando, Florida quadriplegic has sued a strip club, charging that it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act because the lap dance room does not have a wheelchair access (although he could have had a lap dance anywhere else in the club).
4. Jack Ass sues over ‘Jackass’ show
A Montana man who allegedly changed his name to “Jack Ass” in 1997 is suing the makers of the MTV stunt show “Jackass” for giving him a bad name. Five years ago, Bob Craft changed his name to Jack Ass to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. But following the success of the MTV stunt-heavy, gross-out show of the same name, he is claiming defamation of character. The suit asks for damages of $10 million or more to repair his tarnished name. Jack Ass is representing himself.
5. Lawyers claim Big Macs make kids fat
Lawyers have filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of New York children, blaming the fast food restaurant for the kids’ obesity. A 13-year-old boy from Staten Island –who is now 5-foot-4 and 278 pounds—claims he didn’t know that eating three to four fast food meals a week would add to his girth.
6. Toying with security
A woman who says she was pulled off an airplane and asked to take a sex toy out of her luggage after it started vibrating is suing Delta Airlines, saying she was publicly humiliated. The woman doesn’t deny Delta had the duty to investigate a security issue but claims the investigation should have been more discreet, and certainly not in view of many passengers and three “obnoxious” male Delta employees. The otherwise private matter became very public when the woman signed her name to the lawsuit.
7. No Bob Villa here
When the landlord learned that a family was illegally living in her supposedly vacant rental home she evicted them. The squatters responded by filing a lawsuit in small claims court demanding just over $3,000 for the materials and time spent upgrading the house they illegally occupied. The case was summarily dismissed by a San Antonio judge but the landlord, a Houston resident, missed a day of work to defend herself in court, and was left with a repair list of her own: replacing broken windows, cleaning up a messy paint job and removing carpet patches affixed with sticky tape that had ruined the home’s hardwood floors.
8. ‘Hillside Strangler’ files claim for wages
In yet another case of offender turned victim, Kenneth Bianchi, convicted in the “Hillside Strangler’ serial murder case, has filed a claim against Whatcom County, Washington seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars for lost wages and emotional distress. Bianchi, serving a 118-year term in Washington and sentenced to five life terms in California, contends that he was tricked into pleading guilty to the murder of seven women in 1979. Bianchi’s claim seeks up to $100 per day for 23 years of lost wages, in addition to punitive damages and damages for emotional distress.
9. Junk lawsuits are nothing to sneeze about
A Bacliff, Texas man is suing a local McDonald’s fast food outlet for allegedly being too heavy on the black pepper. The lawsuit says that Marcus Long, a 61 year-old cancer patient, coughed up black pepper, sneezed and suffered a bloody nose after eating a “breakfast burrito supersaturated with black pepper.” Long, who says he can only eat soft foods because of his radiation treatment, accuses the restaurant’s employees of negligence and seeks to recover damages stemming from the physical and mental injuries brought on by the peppered burrito.
10. That’s no pumpkin you’re carving
A North Dakota district judge is allowing an anti-circumcision lawsuit to go to trial. The precedent setting decision confirms that a baby who is circumcised can-- in this court, at least--sue his doctor when he reaches the age of 18, even if there was a parental consent for the circumcision, and even if the results are considered to be ‘normal’.
1. Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office
The attorney who sued Clint Eastwood over disability accommodations at his hotel near Carmel was himself sued on allegations his office bathroom was not wheelchair friendly.
2. Mold in Escalade leads to lawsuit escapade
General Motors Corp. is being sued by a man who says mold in his Cadillac sport utility vehicle caused permanent injuries that left him suffering chronic depression and unable to work. Timothy Everett Greene blames GM and a GM dealership for his depression, memory loss, tremors and breathing problems. The lawsuit says faulty weather-stripping in his 1999 Cadillac Escalade led to rainwater leaks, which allowed the mold to grow. The GM dealer in Watauga, North Carolina failed to fix the vehicle and offered the church pastor a less expensive SUV as a replacement, his lawsuit says. "I don't know what the case is worth, but we feel it's worth millions of dollars, considering what's happened" to Greene, said his lawyer, David Duffus. "He's had to give up his church, and he can't sing any more."
3. Cash demanded for disrupting illegal street activity
In Vancouver, British Columbia, which has become a popular site for Hollywood location filming, a group representing drug users, hookers and homeless people has demanded compensation for film crews’ tendency to displace or disrupt illegal street activity. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, which represents about 1,000 residents of the seedy Downtown Eastside, has sent a letter demanding compensation to 30 production firms. Among its many demands the letter asks for financial compensation for loss of residents’ panhandling opportunities.
4. Drilling for a Gusher
A $19 billion class action lawsuit was filed in East Texas against a pipeline company. Oddly enough, the plaintiffs did not claim breach of contract, personal injury or property damage. In fact, they didn’t claim any distinguishable harm at all. Their chief complaint was “fear of future injury”, which is not recognized by the courts as grounds for damages. Apparently, the class action lawyers want the courts to oversee the ongoing maintenance and operations of the pipeline and are hoping the judge will reward their novel theory with a gusher in legal fees.
1. Should have arrested him faster
A convicted sex offender, wanted in Florida who fled into the Maine woods, is complaining that he got frostbite and lost a few toes because he wasn’t arrested fast enough. Harvey Taylor, 48, who was running from a county sheriff’s detective, spent at least three nights lost in the woods, at times in snow hip deep. Taylor is now threatening to sue the detective for not arresting him more promptly.
2. Flunking out of school? Get a lawyer
Arizona English teacher Elizabeth Joice got a letter from a lawyer representing one of the students she failed. The letter asked her to take "whatever action is necessary" for the student to graduate or else the family would sue. Joice said the student plagiarized work, failed a paper and did not attend makeup sessions, among other things. School officials caved and the student was able to retake a test five hours before graduation and receive her diploma.
"A fourth of all lawsuits filed in the United States are either frivolous or fraudulent."
Former U.S. Senator George McGovern citing the American Board of Trial Advocates, in a speech before the American Legislative Exchange Council, San Antonio, April 1994.
"There is no easy definition for the phrase 'frivolous lawsuit,' but I imagine any claim for damages where the injuries are minimal or where the basis for the defendant's liability is hard to believe, might qualify as frivolous."
Paul F. Waldner, President-Elect,
Houston Trial Lawyers Association
Viewpoints, Houston Chronicle
August 31, 1996
Unfortunately, wacky lawsuits are just the tip of the lawsuit abuse iceberg,” said Jon Opelt, director of Houston’s Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “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 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.