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Wacky lawsuits


PN co-founder
I copied this from a post by Bally at VPF to make sure noone misses them.

It's once again time to review the winners of the annual Stella Awards. The Stella's' are named after 81 year old Stella Liebeck who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald's. That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous successful lawsuits in the United States.

Unfortunately, the most recent lawsuit implicating McDonald's, the teens who allege that eating at McDonald's has made them fat, was filed after the 2003 award voting was closed. This suit will top the 2004 awards list without question.


5TH PLACE (TIED): Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving toddler was Ms. Robertson's son.

5TH PLACE (TIED): 19 year old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently did not notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal the hubcaps.

5TH PLACE (TIED): Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving the house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He could not re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage had locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for 8 days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowners insurance, claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The Jury agreed to the tune of $500,000

4TH PLACE: Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's beagle dog. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been a little provoked at the time, as Mr. Williams, who had climbed over the fence into the yard, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.

3RD PLACE: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier, during an argument.

2ND PLACE: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a Night Club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out two of her front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak in the window of the Ladies Room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.

1ST PLACE: This year's runaway winner was Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new Winnebago Motor home. On his trip home from an OU football game, having driven onto 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 RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he could not actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago Motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons buying their recreational vehicles.

Funny thing is that all the above are phoney. Yeah, I found them interesting, so I went to www.StellaAwards.com where I signed up for a pair of off-beat newsletters. I was then taken to a page that offered a list of fake Stella's, and the list was the above items. Check it out yourself at http://www.stellaawards.com/bogus.html




PN co-founder
This ones for real.

Out of school for the summer last year, Taylor Ostergaard and Lindsey Jo Zellitti, 17 and 18 at the time, were looking for a project. One evening they decided to make some home-baked cookies to bring cheer to their neighbors. They had to skip a dance to do it, but Taylor asked her father for permission for the cookie project. He gave his permission with two conditions: the chores had to be done, and he had to get some of the cookies!

By the time the cookies were all made the sun was just dipping below the horizon, so Taylor and Lindsey rushed out to deliver them, only stopping at the houses of their Durango, Colo., neighbors where lights were on inside.

Part of the idea was to do anonymous good deeds, so they put a message on each plate. Written on a big red heart, it read: "Have a great night. Love, The T and L Club."

One of the nine neighbors they delivered to was the Young's. Wanita "Renea" Young, 49, was home, and a light was on in her kitchen. The teens put a plate of cookies on her porch, knocked at the door, and scampered off -- they were doing anonymous good deeds, after all, so it wouldn't work if they were seen!

Renea says she was startled to hear someone at the door at night and called out, "Who's there?" Of course, the two gals were already gone. With no reply forthcoming, Renea says she was so terrified that she called 911. The sheriff responded and found no signs of trouble, no vandalism, no trespass -- just a plate of cookies. The next day she was still suffering from such severe anxiety she thought she was having a heart attack. She checked into the emergency room, but she was not having any heart problems.

When Taylor and Lindsey found out a neighbor had been frightened by their good deed, they were horrified. Quite understandably, they chose not to go knocking at Renea's door, so each sent her a letter of apology. Taylor's said in part she "didn't realize this would cause trouble for you. ... I just wanted you to know that someone cared about you and your family."

The Ostergaard and Zellitti families offered to pay Renea's medical
bills -- about $900 worth -- if she would sign a release saying she
wouldn't sue. An over-reaction? Not in this day in age. Renea refused to sign the release. She said that she was not satisfied with the written apologies, in large part because they weren't delivered in person, so she filed suit in La Plata County Small Claims Court. The suit demanded $3,000 to cover her medical expenses, a motion-sensor light for her porch, lost wages, and punitive damages.

Taylor and Lindsey quickly learned an important life lesson: good
deeds often don't go unpunished.

The teens brought letters from other neighbors saying they liked the cookies, they found the gift a lovely surprise -- and noted that they weren't terrified by the girls' gift. Taylor's parents also wrote to the court. "We feel that knocking on a door and leaving cookies is a gesture of kindness," they said, "and would not create an anxiety attack in the general public."

Judge Doug Walker heard the case. Since the families had offered to pay Renea's medical bills, he awarded her the $900, but no more -- no motion-sensor light, no punitive damages, no lost wages, no pain and suffering.

Taylor "cried and cried" when she and Lindsey lost in court, her
mother Jill says. "She felt she was being punished for doing something nice." The teens declined to make a statement to reporters.

But Renea was happy to talk. Despite her victory in court, she was far from conciliatory. She said the girls showed very poor judgment and shouldn't have been "running around" at night since "something bad could have happened to them." (You mean, some evil Cookie Monster could sue them or something?) As for her lawsuit, she said she hopes "the girls learned a lesson." She also appeared on CNN, claiming the girls pounded on the door so hard they damaged it.

But even with final judgment of the local court, the story was far
from over. The story came out in the state's largest newspaper, and people from all over Colorado were outraged that someone would be so mean as to sue two teens trying to do something nice for their neighbors. They had even apologized, in writing, and offered to pay her medical bills! Scores of people offered to donate to a fund to pay the legal judgment; several offered to pay it all. The girls said if they ended up with more money than the court awarded, they'd donate it to the "Never Forgotten" scholarship fund for students from Columbine High, the Denver-area school
that was the scene of the 1999 mass-murder shooting spree by two students. If donors preferred, they'd use the money for their own college educations. So much money rolled in they added other charities, including two children's hospitals.

But that's not the end either. Within days the story spread throughout the country. Taylor and Lindsey were invited to appear on various TV shows, from "Good Morning America" to "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno". They turned down most of the requests. "We were afraid Mr. Leno might make jokes at our neighbor's expense," said Lindsey's mother, Martha. But they did appear on GMA since they "thought it might be their one shot to tell the country they're still not afraid to do good deeds." She stressed the two families were not upset with the Youngs or the judge.

Taylor's mother agreed with the low public profile. "The girls don't
need to go on these shows to defend themselves," Jill Ostergaard says. "Their best defense is the way they live their lives every day."

Sadly, Richard Ostergaard felt it necessary to go back to court the
day after the judgment: he got a restraining order against Renea's
husband, Herb Young. Herb, he said, was making harassing phone calls to them. Herb says his phone has been ringing a lot too, and that he and his wife have been getting insults and threats from "crackpots". They claim they have been told they "are what's wrong with society" and that they "should be found dead in a ditch."

"I don't believe the girls meant for this to happen," Herb says. "But
they could have prevented it from happening if they had just shut their mouths when they came out of court." Yet remember, the girls refused to make any statement to reporters after they lost their case, and only relented and appeared on some talk shows after Renea started talking to the media. The initial newspaper report was built from court records -- and Renea's statements to the press. Yet they complained "their side" was ignored in the press.

"All this over cookies," Renea says, completely missing the point. She says she's "devastated" by the reaction to her suit, and is so stressed she can't return to her part-time job at Wal-Mart.

Let's hope she doesn't sue over her continuing stress. A check of
court records by the Denver Post found that the cookie case wasn't the first time the Youngs had been in court. They had sued, or been sued, at least nine times, with at least two of the cases involving restraining orders, the Post says. They were sued by a bank, a creditor, a construction company, an employee, and more -- and most of the time they lost.

"Our home is like a funeral parlor," Renea comlpains. "They've
robbed us of our laughter. My spirit, my soul, is damaged." She says she and Herb may have to move out of town.

But hey: she won.


PN co-founder
by Randy Cassingham

Wesley Holloway, now 20, was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega
fraternity at the University of Texas in Austin. After signing a waiver of liability, Holloway went to a party at the ATO frat house in May 2003. As part of the party's entertainment, one of the rooms in the house was filled with foam. To help members clean up after going through it, frat pledges made a wading pool in the back yard. Hale bales were set up, lined with plastic, and filled with about a foot of water as a place to rinse off.

Holloway, who had been a competitive swimmer in high school as well as a lifeguard, was certainly well aware of the dangers of diving into a shallow pool. So he decided to do a belly-flop instead. To get a good splash he leapt from atop a nearby picnic table.

"He was successful in doing a belly-flop and keeping his head up," says his lawyer, Robert Alden. "He didn't know how far he would travel once he hit, or the fact if he hit the hay bales it would break his neck." Sure enough, his head hit a hay bale, his neck was broken, and Holloway was left a quadriplegic.

Maybe Holloway "didn't know" he necessarily would break his neck, but as a competitive swimmer and former lifeguard he "should have known" it, especially since he could easily see how shallow the water was. And sure enough, he did: he admitted it in a deposition, says the frat's lawyer, Jim Ewbank. Holloway's American Red Cross Lifeguard certification was awarded recently enough before the incident to still be valid at the time. But then, maybe Holloway's thinking was clouded: he admits to having begun drinking "hours" before the party started; his lawyer admits his client had drunk "about" four beers. After the incident his blood alcohol level was measured at between .082 and .085 percent; the legal limit in Texas -- for an adult -- is .08 percent. Holloway was just 18 at the time, certainly not the legal drinking age in Texas.

Still Alden has filed suit demanding $25 million in compensation from the fraternity because, the suit reasons, Alpha Tau Omega was negligent in building an "unlicensed pool" which "lacked proper design, lighting, warning signs and other things required under city ordinances." Even though the frat did not supply alcohol at the party, Alden says ATO was "negligent" for allowing members and guests to drink.

"How do you put a price tag on not being able to get out of bed for the rest of your life?" Alden asked -- after he hung the $25 million price tag on Holloway. Still, whose responsibility was it that he was injured?

Holloway's, answers ATO attorney Ewbank. "His injuries were horrific, tragic and unnecessary," he said. "But here's a man who drank to excess and made the stupidest mistake of his life and now wants $25 million for it.


PN co-founder
by Randy Cassingham

Michelle Knepper of Vancouver, Wash., decided she needed liposuction to remove excess body fat. So, she says, she chose a doctor out of the phonebook to perform the surgery.

Out of all the doctors listed she picked Timothy Brown, a Portland, Ore., dermatologist who noted in a Yellow Pages ad in the plastic surgery section that he performed liposuctions. The ad noted he was "Board Certified". He was: in dermatology and in clinical and anatomic pathology; he was not, however, board-certified in plastic surgery. But then, quite a few doctors listed in that section weren't board-certified either.

In any case, Brown did liposuction procedures on Knepper in 1997 and again in 1998. He did a lousy job, she says, leaving her "disfigured". The Oregon Board of Medical examiners investigated Brown's liposuction practice and found "repeated and serious violations" of medical standards, but the findings were not serious enough to warrant a revocation of his medical license. It did, however, put him on probation for five years and limit his practice to dermatology. Brown admitted negligence in his treatment of Knepper and paid a settlement to her and her husband, Jeff.

A great end to the story, then right? The doctor was censured, his victim was compensated, and no future patients will be victimized. The system worked! But no: this is the liposuction case that continues to want to suck; the Kneppers want another pound of flesh.

Not satisfied with winning their case against the doctor, Knepper and her husband, aided by attorney Gregory Smith, sued Dex Media Inc., the publisher of the phone book. The suit alleged the ad was "fraudulent" and that the Dex ad salesman who accepted Brown's ad knew that the "Board Certified" tag only applied to dermatology, not plastic surgery, and thus Dex was responsible for her making a poor choice of doctor.

In its defense, Dex says there was no intent to mislead, and no
evidence that there was such intent. Further, there was no evidence the couple "relied" on the ad, and no evidence of any fraud. The company said it did not know whether Brown was board-certified in plastic surgery or not, but that it's obvious when visiting Brown's office that he bills himself as a ermatologist, not as a plastic surgeon.

"Every year, Dex spends millions to come into our homes on radio and television saying, 'Dex knows.' Then they come to court and say, 'We don't know.'," complains attorney Smith. "Board-certified is a big deal for consumers," he says. "It's OK if your pizza guy is not the best pizza guy, but your doctor...?"

If board certification was such a "big deal" for the Kneppers, then why didn't they look at the certificates Brown had on his wall to see exactly what his education and board memberships were? Did they even ask? Is it reasonable or prudent to base their entire decision on who to use for invasive surgery on the Yellow Pages? And if he did such a terrible job in 1997, why did they go back to him again in 1998?

But that's the case. It's time for you, as a juror in the Court of Public Opinion, to rule on its merits. Then continue on to see if your ruling matches the civil court's.

The case was thrown out in 2000 -- but reinstated in 2002. A trial in 2004 ended in a hung jury. A second trial was held in February 2005, and the jury was this time able to reach a verdict: it found for the Kneppers and awarded Michele $1.2 million. It also awarded her husband Jeff $375,000 for "loss of spousal services and companionship."

Dex says it will appeal. "We publish 260 directories in 14 states," a spokesman said, adding the company can't "validate every claim" made in every ad.

Total time from Yellow Pages to the jury decision: eight years. (And counting, if Dex really appeals....)


PN co-founder
by Randy Cassingham

On October 14, 2004, Barbara Connors, 75, of Medfield, Mass., was
riding in a car driven by her son-in-law, Alan Hauser, 70, when they got into an accident in Old Saybrook, Conn. Their car left the road, jumped the sidewalk, went through a fence, and flew 15 feet through the air and splashed into the Connecticut River. Hauser swam to the surface and was rescued by the crew of a nearby boat, but Connors went under with the car, sinking 10 feet below the surface.

There were plenty of witnesses to the crash, and several quickly
called 911 to report it. "It was the [fastest] response I've ever seen," said one. "They were here in a heartbeat." Because she was underwater, and the river's current increased the danger, rescuers had to don special gear. Even with the time it took them to drive there and do that, Connors was pulled to the surface within 15 to 20 minutes of the accident. Still, it was too late: she had no pulse. Paramedics started CPR and revived her at the scene.

Rescuers were "very pleased with the rescue effort by all the agencies involved, as well as the citizens who helped us," said police officer Michael Spera, who was on the scene. Connors was raced to the hospital in critical condition -- and thanks to everyone's quick action, she survived.

The next month, a ceremony was held to honor the rescuers. Connors' daughter said her mother couldn't attend, but wanted to thank everyone for their "very generous outpouring of generosity and support" in saving her life. Connors was in town to visit her daughter when the accident occurred.

That was then, this is now: Connors has sued not just her son-in-law, who was driving the car, but also the rescuers, alleging they "took too long" to rescue her. The suit, filed in Superior Court at New London, Conn., was filed by attorney Robert Reardon Jr. It claims the town is responsible for not installing "appropriate guardrails to stop a vehicle from going into the water" and for failing to "provide funds for the equipment needed by police divers."

In addition, the suit names the town building inspector, its director
of public works, a building official, a planner, and the Parks and
Recreation Commission, for "failing to maintain a safe environment at Saybrook Point." It also names town police chief Edmund Mosca for "failing to provide adequate staff and diving equipment." The suit says that Connors was previously able to live on her own, but after the accident she has to be cared for in a nursing home. Presumably those responsible for saving her life should pay for that.

For their "very generous outpouring of generosity and support," the town and rescuers are sued? Yeah, that makes sense. Rescue work, especially in water, is incredibly dangerous, and a great many rescuers, most notably in small towns, are volunteers. What sort of public policy signal is society sending when we allow them to be put them through hell after they do a GOOD job?


PN co-founder
by Randy Cassingham

Professional magicians mystify us and entertain us. From Houdini to
Henning to who knows who is up-and-coming, we marvel at their slight of
hand and wonder how they did it.

Christopher Roller of Burnsville, Minnesota, wonders too. He wonders
so much that he has sued two of the best-known names in magic demanding
that they reveal their secrets to him: David Blaine and David

Roller says that if Blaine and Copperfield show him their tricks "with
scientific principals [sic] that don't defy laws of physics" -- and allow
him to "imitate/copy in slow motion" as they do it -- and, if in his
judgement there is a "worldly" explanation for their tricks, he will drop
the suits. But he's fairly confident that they cannot do the tricks with
mere worldly power, because they are surely using "godly" powers to do
their tricks. And that, he says, is the basis for his suits, filed in
U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota this summer.

How's that? Roller argues, with apparent seriousness, that if the
magicians' powers are godly, then they stole that power from him. Um,
how's THAT? "I am deity," he says, "a messenger of god." And since the
magicians are using, in Roller's opinion, godly powers to perform tricks,
that's coming through his special channel to god (er, I guess that would
be some god higher than himself) -- and they don't have his permission to
do that. Thus, he says, he deserves 10 percent of their earnings because
their magical ability was taken from him. "I am the guy responsible for
his powers," he says, not specifying which magician he's referring to.

So is Roller saying Blaine and Copperfield somehow saw him perform
tricks somewhere, and stole them? Nope: Roller says he's not a magician
himself, and does not perform. "I am a programmer and a writer," he
admits. "I have my own Internet software I sell."

But he's serious about the lawsuits. "I would not go to federal court
just to pull somebody's leg," he insists. No, but he would go to federal
court to pull someone's wallet: the suit against Blaine, for instance,
asks for "over $2,000,000" because somehow, "David Blaine has been using
my godly powers to perform his magic."

Apparently Copperfield has made more money from Roller's god-powers. A
lot more: Roller wants $50 million from him. In the Copperfield suit,
which is similarly brief, Roller notes--- well, let me simply quote it in
its entirety:

David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform his
magic. This is a labor dispute in accordance with Minn Statute
179.06 for past/future commission compensation.

[My web site] explains my life and my journey to godliness. I
believe David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform
his magic.

We've all seen clips of UFO videos. They dance around in the sky at
the speed of thought. So we know that godly powers can coexist on
planet Earth. Godly powers means using thought to control
actions/results, usually defying explanation and laws of physics. I
believe magicians have also been granted godly powers by me
somehow, but they have been keeping it a secret and keeping the
credits from me.

If David has godly powers, then he must be using my powers. That,
or I need detailed explanation (in person) of how he does his
tricks, performed/explained in the courtroom (complete
confidentiality), and I will leave him alone if I'm wrong - i.e.
tricks/illusions are done conventionally. I've politely asked
David, via email, to show me how his tricks are done, with no

If godly, I want back-pay compensation - 10% past/future career
earnings. Estimating 10% of past career earnings of over

That's the entire lawsuit. (Can you tell he wrote it himself without
the aid of an attorney?) It cost Roller "like $250" to file it in Federal
court, but at least he didn't do it until he "politely asked" "David" to
reveal his trade secrets to a complete stranger, and didn't get a reply.
If Roller is so godly and Blaine and Copperfield are using his powers to
perform magic, then how come he doesn't already know how to do the
tricks? Unfortunately, there's no room for common sense in his argument.

Some of Copperfield's lawyers' response to the court is worthy of
quotation too:

Seeing as how Roller has never worked for Copperfield in any
capacity anywhere ever and has no relation to Copperfield
whatsoever, he has no claim currently nor could he ever have any
employment or labor claim against Copperfield. Plaintiff's
Complaint is best described as a claim for usurpation of Godly
powers, which as this Court is aware, is beyond the jurisdiction of
this Court or any court of this earth.

(Keep going: it gets even better.)

Defendant respectfully urges the Court to visit Plaintiff's
website.... Therein Plaintiff makes the following claims including:

* Plaintiff is running for President of the United States in 2008
with Bill Gates as his running mate.
* Plaintiff claims he is Jesus Christ.
* Plaintiff claims he is God.
* Plaintiff claims that [NBC news host] Katie Couric and [singer]
Celine Dion are his wives and are going to have his children.
* Plaintiff claims there is a movie coming out soon about his life
that stars Tom Hanks.
* Plaintiff claims he has killed all of his enemies.
* Plaintiff claims he will father 1,000,000 babies.

While most people would simply call Roller a nutball and roll their
eyes, that Just Won't Do in a court of law. Rather, they just point out a
few facts and let the judge come to his own conclusion. But the formal
response is indeed the time and place to ask the judge to dismiss the
suit, and they do: "Accordingly," Copperfield's response concludes,
"dismissal with prejudice is warranted." ("With prejudice" means Roller
would be enjoined from refiling the suit again, even if he amends it.)

In federal courts, there is a procedural rule about frivolous lawsuits
and motions -- Rule 11. When that rule is invoked, the judge can award
damages against the frivolous action. No doubt wanting to get the suit
over with as soon as possible, Copperfield's attorneys have not asked for
such damages, but there's a clear warning to Roller in the response:

Without waiving its right to later do so, it should be noted that
Defendant has not brought a Rule 11 motion at this time despite
ample grounds to do so. Obviously, to the extent Plaintiff were to
continue to pursue his "claim" herein, Defendant may be forced to
seek sanctions under Rule 11 in order to deter Plaintiff from the
repetition of such conduct.


Yes, on the one hand the whole thing is funny, but on the other hand
it's also awfully sad. The victims of the suits are reasonably rich men,
and they can afford to hire good attorneys to fight back. But what if the
defendant were, say, YOU? Then YOU would have to hire an attorney (or
two, like Copperfield) to fight back, and you may not be a rich celebrity
with the money to do that. You might have to take out a second mortgage
on your house to afford it, and take time off work to brief the attorney
on what's going on so he can protect you. Copperfield's attorney didn't
demand "Rule 11" compensation to pay the magician back for the money
spent fighting this junk, but why should that be necessary? When cases
are this ridiculous, it should simply happen anyway in a sort of court-
ordered magic trick. And Presto! Maybe that would have stopped Roller
from filing the second suit ...or maybe even the first one.
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