Haunted by litigation

With Halloween just around the corner, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is unmasking its list of this year’s scariest or silliest lawsuits, all of which are sure to give you a fright or a laugh.

“Don’t bother hiding under the covers,” said Jon Opelt, Houston Director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “There’s no way to escape the fact that these lawsuits are out there, and you’re paying for them. Have a good laugh, or have a good scream, but remember this: Every one of these lawsuits is a true story.”

On Company Time – Jonathon Russell went on a rampage at work at a Missouri manufacturing plant in July, killing three people with a semi-automatic pistol and wounding five others before killing himself. His mother has filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking a death benefit from the company since her son killed himself on company time. (Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune, October 5, 2003).

Texas Toenail Massacre – A Texas county jail inmate claimed he failed to receive proper medical attention when a remote-controlled jail door closed on his toes resulting in a burning sensation in his foot. He later testified he regularly felt burning in his foot since being involved in a motorcycle accident six years earlier. (Longview News-Journal, May13, 2003)

Wheel of Misfortune –Winning contestant Will Wright filed a $2 million lawsuit against “Wheel of Fortune” and its host Pat Sajak over back injuries he says he suffered when an exuberant Sajak hugged him in a moment of unbridled enthusiasm. Wright had just won $48,400 and claims he was startled and nearly buckled under Sajak’s full-weight embrace (Kansas City Star, October 19, 2003)

Seeking Redress – A Houston area man has filed a lawsuit in Harris County court trying to end the scourge of a $5 credit card surcharge for $20 lap dances at Houston strip clubs. His lawyer, David George, is seeking class action status on behalf of all credit card-wielding table dance lovers. A further problem could ensue for lap dance aficionados if the class action is successful and refunds arrive home in the mail. (Houston Chronicle, August 31, 2003)

The Buzz Cut – A Texas man stung by bees while mowing a vacant lot in the small town of Mart sued TXU Corp., alleging the utility knew the swarm lived in an abandoned underground meter box and didn’t warn the public. (Houston Chronicle, May 29, 2003)

Attack of the Killer Bagel – A Florida couple sued McDonald’s, claiming a bagel hurt the husband’s teeth and damaged their marriage. The wife claims she “lost the care, comfort, consortium and society of her husband” as a result of his injuries. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 9, 2003)

A Biker’s Despair – Nine members of the Mongols motorcycle gang are suing Harrah’s casino in Laughlin, Nevada for failing to prevent a melee between the Mongols and their rivals, the Hells Angels. The Mongols are seeking unspecified damages for injuries during the melee and for “anguish, despair and emotional distress.” The lawsuit contends hotel security knew the Hells Angels would be in town and should have known there was a good chance of trouble. (Akron Beacon Journal, September 25, 2003).

Colliding Forces – A New Jersey elementary school teacher has sued a student who ran into her in a school hallway. The lawsuit claims Daniel Allen, who was then 11 and weighed about 90 pounds, “negligently and carelessly” collided with her at an “excessive rate of speed” while running to catch a bus home. After being served papers by the County sheriff’s deputy, the youngster asked “Why does she hate me? Why is she doing this? I said I was sorry.” (South Jersey News, March 29, 2003)

Market Driven Calamity – Ten people were killed and a dozen injured when 86-year-old George Russell Weller drove his car through several barricades into a crowded farmers market in Santa Monica, California. Now victims are suing the City of Santa Monica claiming the city contributed to the crime by not erecting stronger barricades or otherwise doing more to prevent a man from driving into a crowd of people. ( Orange County Register, October 23, 2003)

Burrito Inferno – A 61-year-old Galveston man sued McDonald’s, contending a peppered burrito caused two months of daily nosebleeds, a mouth infection and possible damage to his vocal chords. His wife said “it burned him all inside.” (Houston Press, January16, 2003)

“While these lawsuits may provide a few laughs, we should all be horrified at the types of lawsuits that are clogging our courts and keeping legitimate cases from a timely hearing.” Opelt said. “The hair-raising fact is that lawsuit abuse is no spoof; it’s real. And it’s costing each and every one of us.”

According to a new study by Tillinghast Towers Perrin, every American pays $721 annually to cover the costs of lawsuits nationally. That is equivalent to a 5 percent tax on wages, said Opelt.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

2500 City West Boulevard, Suite 300 • Houston, Texas 77042
E-mail: sosueme@ • Administrative: (713) 267-2302 • Fax: (713) 267-2267