Friday, May 29, 2009

The Stella awards for frivolous litigation!

I was raised in Albuquerque, home of many of the most outrageous lawsuits in the world, acts that precipitated the Stella awards, a hall-of-shame for American litigation.

just finished reading “The Stella Awards” book by Randy Cassingham, a tad dated, but a must-read for anyone interested in frivolous lawsuits and tort reform (also a popular web site).

The Stella award has the coffee cup from the Albuquerque incident, a case where a woman placed a hot cup of coffee between her legs, and sued McDonalds, winning millions of dollars:

The Stela award is modeled after the Albuquerque coffee case

The American legal system can be simply fixed, just require the losing party to post a surety bold to pay the legal bills of the loser, and require all judges to punish frivolous litigators.

This book on the Stella Awards is out-of-print, but you can get a copy on Amazon stores.

Urban legends on frivolous litigation

This one is a common “urban legend”, exposed by the Stella awards:

In November 2000 Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32 foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, having joined the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he couldn't actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnie. (Winnebago actually changed their handbooks on the back of this court case, just in case there are any other complete morons buying their vehicles.)

Here are the 2007 Stella award winners:

#3: Sentry Insurance Company. The company provided worker's compensation insurance for a Wisconsin "Meals on Wheels" program. Delivering a meal, a MoW volunteer (who was allegedly not even wearing boots) slipped and fell on a participant's driveway that had been cleared of snow, and Sentry had to pay to care for her resulting injuries. Sentry wanted its money back, so it sued the 81-year-old homeowner getting the Meals on Wheels service. It could have simply filed for "subrogation" from her homeowner's insurance company, but by naming her in the action, it dragged an old lady into court, reinforcing the image of insurance companies as concerned only about the bottom line, not "protecting" policyholders from loss.

#2: The family of Robert Hornbeck. Hornbeck volunteered for the Army and served a stint in Iraq. After getting home, he got drunk, wandered into a hotel's service area (passing "DANGER" warning signs), crawled into an air conditioning unit, and was severely cut when the machinery activated. Unable to care for himself due to his drunkenness, he bled to death. A tragedy, to be sure, but one solely caused by a supposedly responsible adult with military training. Despite his irresponsible behavior -- and his perhaps criminal trespassing -- Hornbeck's family sued the hotel for $10 million, as if it's reasonably foreseeable that some drunk fool would ignore warning signs and climb into its heavy duty machinery to sleep off his bender.

But those pale compared to...

The winner of the 2007 True Stella Award: Roy L. Pearson Jr. The 57-year-old Administrative Law Judge from Washington DC claims that a dry cleaner lost a pair of his pants, so he sued the mom-and-pop business for $65,462,500. That's right: more than $65 million for one pair of pants. Representing himself, Judge Pearson cried in court over the loss of his pants, whining that there certainly isn't a more compelling case in the District archives. But the Superior Court judge wasn't moved: he called the case "vexatious litigation", scolded Judge Pearson for his "bad faith", and awarded damages to the dry cleaners. But Pearson didn't take no for an answer: he's appealing the decision. And he has plenty of time on his hands, since he was dismissed from his job. Last we heard, Pearson's appeal is still pending.