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.

 

Starbucks Gets Served With A McDonald’s-Style Hot Beverage Lawsuit

If there’s one lawsuit everyone in America has heard about, it’s the infamous lawsuit filed against McDonalds over a cup of coffee that Stella Liebeck spilled in her lap.  Years later, countless Americans still bemoan the fact that they can’t get a cup of coffee that is hot enough for their liking because of Stella.

The fear of serving drinks as hot as their patrons prefer is only one of the side effects of the lawsuit that became the poster child for lawsuit abuse.

Unfortunately, it has also inspired many copycat lawsuits over the years.  I have personally talked to many owners of “mom and pop” restaurants who were put through the legal wringer by patrons who spilled hot drinks on themselves and who hoped to cash in on their own clumsiness in the courts.

The latest example of someone trying to hit the lawsuit lottery over a hot drink seems to be a lawsuit filed against Starbucks over a spilled cup of tea.  Read about it here.

I say that this lawsuit seems to be another case of someone willing to overlook personal responsibility so they can file a lawsuit because there haven’t been enough facts made available yet to know what really happened in this case.  However, we’ll be sure to follow this and let you know.  Short of a Starbucks employee actually throwing scalding tea onto a patron, we’re very likely looking at a copycat.

Having debated Harvard law professors and other plaintiff lawyers about the widespread lawsuit problem in America, I am always very careful to make sure I have all the facts right.  Personal injury lawyers love to try to make it appear that McDonald’s was liable for Stella’s self-inflicted injury because of claims that the company had been warned about the temperature of its coffee.   They even have websites devoted to this lawsuit.

I have just one thing to say about their assertion that McDonald’s was responsible: “Nonsense!”

Ted Frank gave the best explanation I’ve ever seen of why “the case is ludicrous on its face, as a matter of law, and as a matter of common sense.”  Click here to read how he picked apart the plaintiff lawyers’ case on Overlawyered.com.

These lawsuits always cost the businesses tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to defend against…regardless of whether they win or lose.  I’ve spoken with some of the fine people who were on the receiving end of these lawsuits after they went out of business, and their stories are always heartbreaking.

Special feature:  Ever wondered about Stella Liebeck?  Click here to view a FOX News segment that includes rare footage of her explaining how she spilled the coffee on herself.  It also includes Yours Truly explaining how her ridiculous lawsuit led to a surge in common sense warning labels in America.