The Stella Awards and Frivolous Lawsuits

RV Senior Man - Thumbs UpEver heard the story about the guy who sued Winnebago over its cruise control? According to the story, he set the cruise control while driving and then left his seat to brew some coffee.  Of course, he crashed.  And, as the story goes, he was mad that the instructions didn’t warn him not to do this, so he sued.

If you’ve heard about this, you’re not alone.  It’s part of a viral email note about five crazy lawsuits that received the so-called “Stella Awards.”  The names and personal information about the five “winners” change from time to time, but the circumstances always stay the same. People around the world forward this email to me many times a year.

The awards are named after the woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s.  Her name was Stella Liebeck, and I’m sure that whoever started this award named it after her because if there is one lawsuit that everyone in America has heard about, it’s her infamous case.

The problem is, all the stories are fake.  That’s right, they’re urban legends.  It’s easy to believe them, though, because so many real lawsuits are just as outrageous.

While I’ve done my own research on this, the leading debunker of urban legends, Snopes.com, has also exposed this email as a fraud, and you can see their take on it here.  After revealing that the “Stella Awards” are pure fiction, Snopes also takes the time to point out that there is no shortage of outrageous lawsuits in the courts that are real.  Many of the real lawsuits they cite were brought to their attention by yours truly over the years.

Of course, there are a lot better places for information about how junk lawsuits are affecting America than through phony emails.  This blog is just one, and some of the ridiculous lawsuits we have highlighted include:

Some of my other favorite sources for information about ridiculous lawsuits include Overlawyered.com, AbnormalUse.com and CenterForAmericaTV.org.

The next time you see the Stella Awards email note, remember to check back here.  The lawsuits you will find us talking about on this blog and on the websites I just mentioned prove that truth is often stranger than fiction.

 

Lawsuit Leads To Cancellation Of Popular Pumpkin Hurling Contest

Punkin Chunkin 5There probably hasn’t been more disappointment associated with a pumpkin-related event since the Great Pumpkin failed to show up for Linus and Sally in the beloved TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I’m talking about the cancellation of the annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition in Delaware after nearly 30 years.

No, I’m not out of my gourd. This is a serious event that has had a major positive economic impact on the rural part of Delaware that has hosted the competition. As many as 20,000 fans have travelled to Sussex County in recent years to see pumpkins be launched in the air via slingshots, catapults and even pneumatic cannons.

The event started in 1986, and there’s an interesting history of the competition on the Punkin Chunkin website. Despite its enormous popularity – it was even featured on the Discovery Channel’s, Mythbusters, show – it was cancelled in 2014 and won’t be held this year, either.

Why? A couple of years ago, a volunteer was injured in an ATV accident and filed a lawsuit. Daniel Fair was a “spotter” and, along with others, rode an all-terrain vehicle through a field to help determine the distances competitors flung their pumpkins. The ATV he was riding flipped in 2011, and he suffered serious injuries. He filed a lawsuit seeking at least $4.5 million in damages.

The Wilmington News Journal reported that owner of the farm argued there was nothing inherently dangerous about the path Fair was riding on and that “its existence was obvious and known to all.” It estimates that “Fair, a repeat volunteer, drove an ATV over it 150 times between 2007 and 2011 without a problem, as did plenty of other people.”

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but the parties settled out of court. Of course, that started a domino effect, and now, affordable insurance for the event is impossible to find, and the farmer who hosted it won’t let it return to his property.

That’s a shame. In a news report that aired on ABC-affiliate, WMDT-TV, Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn noted that in addition to all of the economic benefits enjoyed by the local businesses who served the thousands of people who came to the event, Punkin Chunkin raised $50,000 for student scholarships and $100,000 for charities over the years.

To help save the event, Senator Pettyjohn introduced legislation to cap pain-and-suffering awards in lawsuits against non-profit charities sponsoring annual events, but as WMDT reported in a follow-up story, it was blocked in committee, and “supporters of the bill said lobbying by trial lawyers defeated the measure.”

So, is the Punkin Chunkin competition history? An article on the Delaware Surf Fishing website reports that “due to this lack of protection, Punkin Chunkin organizers are starting to look out of state” for a new location.

To stop that from happening, a grassroots movement called #savethechunk has now sprouted up on Facebook and Twitter, and leaders of the effort still hope to convince Delaware legislators to enact legislation that will allow the event to remain in that state.

This situation reminds me of a time when a group of citizens in Connecticut rallied to keep public bike trails open there after a lawsuit by an injured biker forced the trails to be closed. I discussed this on my blog at the time, and a groundswell of public support led by hardworking volunteers there eventually led to legislation being enacted that allowed the trails to re-open. If it could be done in Connecticut, it can be done in Delaware.

Hat tip to Walter Olson for alerting us to this story on Overlawyered.com.