It’s time again for the annual “Stella Awards.” For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 79-year-old Stella Liebeck who in 1994 spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonald’s restaurant in New Mexico, where she purchased the coffee. You may remember that while sitting in a vehicle, she took the lid off the coffee cup to add cream and sugar putting it between her knees. Who would ever think one could get burned doing that, right?
She spilled the coffee on her causing third degree burns. She was hospitalized for eight days and had skin grafts. A jury awarded her damages of $2.8 million, but the judge reduced that amount to $640,000. It was called the mother of frivolous lawsuits. So these awards, now called Stella Awards, are for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. … you know, the kinds of cases that make you scratch your head.
Here are the Stella’s for this year: Seventh place: Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle by tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.
Sixth place: Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.
Fifth place: Terrence Dickson, of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.
Forced to sit for eight, count ‘em, EIGHT days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowner’s insurance company claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish. We should all have this kind of anguish.
Fourth place: Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Arkansas, garnered fourth place when he was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor’s beagle – even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.
Third place: Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was awarded $113,500 by a jury after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone at a Philadelphia restaurant. The reason the soft drink was on the floor was that Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
Second place: Kara Walton, of Claymont, Delaware, sued the owner of a nightclub in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the nightclub had to pay her $12,000 … oh yeah, plus dental expenses.
First place: This year’s runaway first place Stella Award winner was Mrs. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motorhome. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motorhome left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set.
The Oklahoma jury awarded her – are you sitting down? – $1.75 million, plus a new motorhome. Winnebago actually changed its manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski had any relatives who might also buy a motorhome.
The plaintiffs in these cases helped clog up the court system and also along with their attorneys, shrewdly obtained these settlements. But it’s clear that the experiences and willingness to pursue was a little crazy. Would you sue for causes like these?
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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