Outrageous & Frivolous Lawsuit Verdicts – Fact or Urban Myth?

Everybody has probably seen them at one time or another — The Stella Awards — an annual list of the most outrageous lawsuits. The Awards are named after Stella Liebeck, the lady who sued and won a multi-million dollar verdict against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself.

Some of the more noteworthy Stella Award winners include:

  • The woman who won $1.7 million from Winnebago after putting her RV on cruise control at 70 mph, and then getting up to go make herself a sandwich in the back. She claimed that Winnebago should have warned her that she couldn’t leave the driver’s seat after putting the cruise control on.
  • A 19 year old in Los Angeles won $74,000 in medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord while the teenager was trying to steal a hubcap.
  • A woman who was awarded $80,000 after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store, even though the toddler was her own son.

These examples are humorous, and indeed, the list goes on and on with other silly examples. The only problem is that ALL OF THESE LAWSUITS ARE ENTIRELY FALSE!

Even the underlying McDonald’s hot coffee case itself has reached unwarranted levels of urban myth-ism.  If you want the REAL story behind the case, click here for more info on why the final verdict in that case was actually quite reasonable under the circumstances.

Why do I bring up these awards? Because you wouldn’t believe the number of people I talk to who bring up these “cases” as examples of what’s wrong with our legal system.

The problem is that these wild misconceptions foster the type of false notion perpetuated by insurance companies and politicians who claim that there’s no rhyme or reason to our judicial system — which, of course, is the sort of “problem” that they just happen to have a government solution for.  How convenient.

Well, take it from a lawyer who’s in the trenches everyday: despite what you may hear — the concept of jackpot justice is exceedingly rare.  Are there occasionally exceptions and outlier verdicts? Absolutely. Just like there are times when clearly negligent defendants get away with maiming people.  But both situations are exceptions and hardly the norm.

Is the system expensive and in need of tweaking here and there?  Sure.  Just like everything else in life, it can be improved.

But good policy decisions aren’t made by throwing out the baby with the bathwater — and cutting off people’s legal rights in the meantime — based on urban myths perpetuated as fact.  That makes absolutely no sense at all.

So, don’t believe the hype.  Do your own homework before you fall hook, line and sinker for a story that sounds too crazy to be true.  Because most times, it isn’t.

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