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Ridiculous lawsuits on parade

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, January 11, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

Sometimes the best Christmas presents arrive late.

My tardy surprise this year was the discovery of a website called FacesofLawsuitAbuse.org, which made my holidays a little brighter with this list of the 10 Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2012:

  1. Intoxicated Florida driver pleads guilty to manslaughter, then sues victim he killed.
  2. Michigan woman files $5 million suit to get back the gas in the tank of her repossessed car.
  3. A 13-year-old Little Leaguer is sued by a spectator who got struck by a baseball.
  4. A maximum-security inmate who went to jail with five teeth sues prison for dental problems.
  5. Anheuser-Busch is sued after a long-neck bottle is used as weapon in bar fight.
  6. A National Football League fan sues the Dallas Cowboys over hot bench.
  7. A California restaurant owner is sued over disabilities-act violations in a parking lot he doesn't own.
  8. A Colorado man wins $7 million over an illness he says was caused by inhaling microwave popcorn fumes.
  9. A $1.7 billion suit claims Santa Monica, Calif., wireless parking meters cause health problems.
  10. Parents sue a school after their son was kicked out of an honors class for cheating.

There's a sobering purpose behind this list. The site is the brainchild of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), which uses any tool at its disposal -- including trenchant humor -- to prevent economic and human damage from what it calls "lawsuit abuse."

That term is a far less forgiving one than its predecessor, "frivolous lawsuits," which seemed to trivialize the damage that our increasingly litigious society exacts on all of us. According to the ILR, the cost of lawsuits in this country, when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product, is more than double that of any other industrialized nation.

Translation? "We sue too much," says Lisa Rickard, ILR president.

The growing cost of abusive litigation factors heavily into the premiums we pay on our homeowners insurance and auto insurance policies and the products and services we buy from small businesses. Questionable lawsuits wreck lives, reward gold-diggers and tax our court system.

To try to correct this course, FacesofLawsuitAbuse.org provides a platform for victims of lawsuit abuse to tell their stories via video. Most of these first-person stories might air once if at all on a local TV broadcast and disappear forever. ILR hopes its accumulation of victim videos will have an impact greater than the occasional segment on the nightly news.

To keep the clicks coming, FacesofLawsuitAbuse.org hosts an interactive poll where you can vote for the most ridiculous lawsuit of the month.

Log on for the laughs, stay for the outrage. It's going to take public awareness and engagement to prompt action on lawsuit abuse.

(Thanks to "Terms + Conditions" blogger Claire Wilkinson at the Insurance Information Institute for tipping me to this important site.)

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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52 Comments
Phil L
January 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm

The infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit settlement was because the judge determined that McDonald's did nothing to correct the problem! It reminds me of the urban legend about the Sears lawnmower suit. Plaintiffs said that Sears did not tell them that they could not trim a hedge with a lawnmower and they were injured by it. Turns out it was a hypothetical story told by an insurance man at a meeting but urban legend says it was true. I agree with the comment that you have to take these "frivoulous" lawsuits with a "grain of salt!"

bobo
January 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Not people. . . . .LAWYERS!!!!!!!!!
I think it was Ben Franklin that saw the danger in letting lawyers run wild when he made the comment "We need to line all the lawyers up against a wall, shoot them then start all over again".

David B.
January 11, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I, totally, disagree with "rediculous lawsuit" number 8. This one is justified for the reasons Andrew L. stated in his response. The ridiculous lawsuit that SHOULD be on this list is the one which seems to have started these frivolous/rediculous lawsuits is the $2 million-spilt-hot-coffee-on-lap-from McDonald's case which was, actually, won!

Eric B
January 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm

In response to Dominic above; Other countries already do this, in particular England, where the loser pays court costs and attorneys fees. While our common law was derived from the English system (except in Louisiana) this aspect was disgarded as it was seen to deter the innocent victim from action against large corporations (Daivd v Golith, Inc). While this idea has merit we are left with very little deterent against frivolous suits.

MPK
January 11, 2013 at 12:52 pm

In U.K. and some spots in Europe if a frivolous lawsuit is filed filed and lost the plaintiff must pay all fees for the dependent, court, and an agreed upon restitution for the defendant. This process makes the idiots think a bit!

Gary Katz
January 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm

These types of lists are often exaggerated/false. Also, anyone can file a suit over anything, but it's pretty easy to get a truly frivolous lawsuit dismissed. Thus, silly suits as described in this article add little to business expenses. Organizations that publish these hysteria-inducing examples usually seek solutions that have nothing to do with the frivolous suits, like limiting the amounts of damages that juries can award. Since juries would award high damages on genuine cases, not frivolous cases, caps on damages punish real victims of real negligence, not gold digging fools. So read about frivolous cases with humor and a grain of salt!

Janet F
January 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm

The problem stems with the way lawyers are educated and licensed. The bar does not police their own by insuring that only the best lawyers are licensed. So many lawyers are licensed that there is not enough legitimate work for all of them, especially in a bad economy. Hence the slew of advertisements for anything from slip and fall to not getting paid for overtime. This is now having a profound effect on the medical industry in insurance premiums and higher costs for all because these so called "deep pockets" are a target.

Andy S
January 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I would like to see the following for each of these: 1) court where the case was heard; 2) names of the parties; 3)case number of the suit; and 4) final resolution. It's easy to slant the review of the suit, if you refuse to put verifiable information out there with your statement.

Dominic T
January 11, 2013 at 11:48 am

I'd like to see the Plaintiff's pay a fine (10% of their request)to cover court costs and the Defendant's Legal Fees IF their lawsuit is found to be frivolous.

Then people would think twice before:
1) filing such a lawsuit
2) asking for ridiculous amounts of money
(e.g. 3 million dollars for fuel in a reposessed car?)

BTW: I agree with Andrew's entry.

Andrew L
January 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

One lawsuit should not be in the list. While it sounds strange that a man could win $7 million over an illness caused by inhaling microwave popcorn fumes, he showed that the company actually knew it was including ingredients that could cause severe damage, but did so anyway for monetary reasons. Far different than the other cases and the reason he was successful.