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10 Stupid Lawsuits That Never Should Have Seen a Courtroom
We’ve all heard stories about bizarre lawsuits that make us scratch our heads and wonder, “How did that even make it to court?” From claims that defy common sense to grievances that could only originate in the most imaginative minds, these lawsuits remind us that truth can be stranger than fiction. So buckle up as we journey through legal history, where some plaintiffs turned everyday mishaps into extraordinary legal battles.
Here are ten stupid lawsuits that never should have seen a courtroom.
10 Liebeck v. McDonald’s: A Hot Coffee Spill
In 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap and suffered third-degree burns that required skin grafts and two years of medical treatment. Liebeck offered to settle the case with McDonald’s for $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and lost income. McDonald’s only offered $800, so the case went to trial.
After a weeklong trial, the 12-person jury found McDonald’s to be 80% at fault for Mrs. Liebeck’s injuries and awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The trial judge later reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, and the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
McDonald’s coffee was found to be dangerously hot, at 180-190°F (82.2-87.8°C), and more likely to cause serious injury than coffee served at any other establishment. Liebeck’s attorneys argued that McDonald’s coffee was defective. McDonald’s admitted that its coffee was “not fit for consumption” when sold because it causes severe scalds if spilled or drunk.
While the case is often criticized as an example of a frivolous lawsuit, it is important to note that Liebeck suffered serious injuries and offered to settle for a reasonable amount before the case went to trial. The case also brought attention to the issue of dangerously hot coffee and led to changes in how restaurants serve coffee to customers.
9 Dimmick v. Rowley: The Hostage Holdup
Dimmick v. Rowley is a case that gained national attention and was widely regarded as one of the most ridiculous lawsuits in recent history. In September 2009, Jesse Dimmick, a convicted kidnapper, broke into the home of Jared and Lindsay Rowley in Topeka, Kansas, while on the run from the police. He was under suspicion for a murder in Colorado.
During the following standoff, Dimmick held the Rowleys hostage for several hours before falling asleep. According to Dimmick, he had a legally binding oral contract with the Rowleys that they would hide him from the police in exchange for money. However, after his arrest, Dimmick was convicted of kidnapping, theft, and eluding police.
The Rowleys filed a lawsuit against Dimmick, seeking $75,000 in damages for breaking into their home and causing emotional distress. In 2011, Dimmick filed a countersuit against the Rowleys, seeking $235,000 in damages for breach of contract. His suit was unsuccessful, and he was sentenced to 11 years for two counts of kidnapping. He was then sent to Colorado for trial, convicted, and sentenced to 37 years. In 2013, a Shawnee County District Court judge dismissed the Rowleys’ lawsuit against Dimmick upon their request.
8 Naruto v. Slater: A Monkey Selfie
In the case of Naruto v. Slater, a monkey named Naruto filed a copyright infringement claim over a selfie he took on a wildlife photographer’s unattended camera. The photographer, David Slater, and the publishing company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd., published the monkey selfies in a book. The lawsuit gained significant attention and raised intriguing legal questions.
The district court initially granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that Naruto lacked standing under Article III and the Copyright Act. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Naruto’s Article III standing, stating that the complaint included facts sufficient to establish that Naruto was the author and owner of the photographs and had suffered economic harm. Despite this, the court held that Naruto lacked statutory standing because the Copyright Act did not authorize animals to file copyright infringement suits.
The case ultimately ended with a settlement agreement between Slater and PETA, the organization representing Naruto, where Slater agreed to donate 25 percent of his future proceeds from the use of the selfies to charities protecting wildlife. The Ninth Circuit refused to dismiss the appeal, stating that a decision would be helpful to lower courts in addressing a developing area of the law.
7 Stambovsky v. Ackley: A Haunted House
In this case, Jeffrey Stambovsky entered a contract to purchase a house from Helen Ackley in Nyack, New York. However, after signing the contract, Stambovsky discovered that the house was allegedly haunted. Feeling deceived, Stambovsky sought to rescind the contract and recover his down payment, arguing that Ackley had a duty to disclose the house’s haunted status.
The court ruled in favor of Stambovsky, stating that Ackley had a duty to disclose the house’s haunted status. The court considered the house’s reputation as a haunted house and the fact that Ackley had promoted the haunted status in media interviews. Based on these factors, the court held that Ackley had a duty to disclose this information to Stambovsky.
The court’s decision was based on the caveat emptor (buyer beware) principle, which is the general rule in real estate transactions. However, the court found that the house’s haunted status was a unique and material fact that could affect the property’s value. Therefore, the court held that Ackley had a duty to disclose this information to Stambovsky.
6 Vezmar v. Cruz: The Worst Date
Vezmar v. Cruz is a lawsuit that made headlines in 2017 when a man sued his date for texting during a movie. The plaintiff, Brandon Vezmar, claimed that his date, Crystal Cruz, was texting on her phone during their movie date, which he found distracting.
Vezmar asked Cruz to stop texting, but she refused, so he decided to sue her for the cost of the movie ticket, which was $17.31. The lawsuit quickly gained attention on social media and news outlets, with many people mocking Vezmar for what they saw as a frivolous lawsuit.
A judge eventually dismissed the case and ruled that Vezmar’s claim did not meet the minimum threshold for damages required to file a lawsuit in small claims court. However, the case continued to generate controversy and debate about the lawsuit’s merits and the broader issue of texting in movie theaters.
5 Pearson v. Chung: Dude, Where Are My Pants?
The case of Pearson v. Chung, also known as the “$54 million pants” case, gained international attention and has been an example of frivolous litigation and the need for tort reform in the United States. Roy Pearson, an administrative law judge at the time, sued his local dry cleaning establishment for damages after they allegedly lost his pants.
The case went to trial on June 12, 2007, with Pearson representing himself. He argued that the dry cleaners had failed to fulfill their “Same Day Service” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” promises. Ultimately, the superior court judge ruled in favor of the dry cleaners. The case has been widely regarded as a frivolous lawsuit due to its lack of legal or factual support. Pearson’s claim for $54 million in damages for a lost pair of pants was considered outrageous and without merit.
Pearson v. Chung symbolized the broader problem of frivolous lawsuits and the potential misuse of the legal system for personal gain. While the case eventually faced significant backlash from the public and legal experts, it underscored the necessity for more stringent regulations surrounding the filing of baseless claims.
4 Ramirez v. Kraft Heinz Foods Company: A Cheesy Situation
Ramirez v. Kraft Heinz Foods Company is a recent case filed in the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiff, Amanda Ramirez, filed a complaint against Kraft Heinz Foods Company, alleging that the company falsely advertised its Velveeta Shells & Cheese Original Microwaveable bowls that state “Ready within three-and-a-half minutes.”
Ramirez alleged that these instructions only describe the cooking time and fail to take into account the time it takes to remove the lid, add the cheese sauce, add water, and stir. She claimed that had she known it would take longer than the stated time, she never would have purchased the product. Ramirez argued that the packaging constituted false advertising and a violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. She asked that Kraft cease its deceptive advertising and demanded $5 million in punitive damages.
However, on July 27, 2023, the court dismissed Ramirez’s complaint for failure to state a claim. The judge ruled that Ramirez had not provided enough evidence to support her claim and that the labeling would mislead a reasonable consumer. The judge also noted that Ramirez had not suffered any actual harm from purchasing the product and, therefore, did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. On a side note: Her attorney had also filed a lawsuit against Frito-Lay for its “Hint of Lime” Tostitos, which the plaintiff in that case claimed contain only a “negligible or de minimis” amount of lime.
3 Berkman v. Robert’s Am. Gourmet Food: Snack Time
Berkman v. Robert’s Am. Gourmet Food is a case decided on June 26, 2007, in the Supreme Court of New York. The plaintiff, Berkman, filed a lawsuit against Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc., alleging that the company had falsely advertised its “Pirate’s Booty” snack food as being “trans-fat-free” and “all-natural” when it contained trans fat and other artificial ingredients.
Berkman claimed that he had purchased the product based on these false claims and suffered damages as a result. The court dismissed the case, stating that the plaintiff had failed to show that he had suffered any injury due to the alleged false advertising.
Critics argue that the plaintiff’s claims were baseless and that the lawsuit was simply an attempt to extort money from the defendant. However, others argue that the case highlights the need for stricter regulation of food labeling and advertising to prevent companies from making false or misleading claims about their products.
2 Stemm v. Tootsie Roll Indus.: It’s About Quality over Quantity
In this peculiar legal battle, the plaintiff, Mr. Stemm, alleged that he had suffered emotional distress and physical harm due to Junior Mints packaging. Stemm claimed that he had purchased a box of Junior Mints, expecting to find a “reasonable amount” of mints inside, only to discover that there were, in his view, too few mints in relation to the overall size of the box. He argued that this disparity between packaging size and candy quantity was misleading and a deceptive business practice.
However, the lawsuit’s absurdity becomes apparent upon closer inspection. The packaging of Junior Mints has long been recognized for its distinctive design, featuring a substantial box with a clear plastic cover to showcase the enclosed mints. The transparency of the packaging leaves no room for confusion regarding the quantity of mints contained within.
Moreover, Stemm’s claims of emotional distress and physical harm stemming from the mint-to-box ratio strain credibility. The case wasted valuable court resources and trivialized the legal system by turning a mundane matter of candy packaging into a baseless courtroom drama.
1 Overton v. Anheuser-Busch: A Ladies Man
In 1991, Richard Overton filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light, for $10,000, claiming to have suffered emotional distress, mental injury, and financial loss. Overton alleged that the company’s advertising campaign, which featured beautiful women, falsely promised him that he would attract such women if he drank their beer. Despite consuming more and more of their beer, Overton’s fantasies of having beautiful women fawn over him never became a reality.
The Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed Overton’s case based on his “failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” The Overton v. Anheuser-Busch case is often cited as one of the most ridiculous lawsuits ever.
While the lawsuit may seem frivolous, it highlights the issue of false advertising and the potential harm it can cause consumers. Companies are responsible for ensuring that their advertising is truthful and not misleading, and consumers have the right to hold them accountable when they fail to do so. However, in this case, Overton’s claim was deemed baseless and dismissed by the court.