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The Stella Awards for Frivolous Lawsuits

The "Stella Awards" are named in honor of 79-year old Stella Liebeck, the woman who received $2.3 million for spilling a cup of McDonald's coffee on herself. These outrageous awards, bestowed upon those whose actions had brought them to grief, arise from cases that fall upon the very receptive ears of juries, resulting in very real and very large awards for frivolous claims.

Here, compiled from the University of San Francisco School of Business and Management web site are the "nominees for the Stella Awards."

Any of these types of frivolous lawsuits could happen to you and your business, if you are not protected by a properly set up Nevada or offshore corporation.  And you will have to pay dearly to defend yourself, even if you win.


September 2006. Even though Ray Heckard is 3 inches shorter, 25 pounds lighter, and 8 years older than
 former basketball star Michael Jordan, the Portland, Oregon, man says he looks a lot like Jordan, and is often confused for him - and thus deserves $52 million for defamation and permanent injury - plus $364 million in punitive damages for emotional pain and suffering plus the same amount from Nike co-founder Phil Knight for a grand total of $832 million. An actual attorney took this case. Heckard finally dropped the suit after Nike's lawyers explained how they would counter-sue if he pressed on.

December 2006. While shopping, Marcy Meckler stepped outside and was 'attacked' by a squirrel living in the trees and bushes outside. And "while attempting to escape from the squirrel and detach it from her leg, Meckler fell and suffered severe injuries," her resulting lawsuit says. That's the mall's fault, the lawsuit claims, demanding in excess of $50,00 based on the store's "failure to warn her that squirrels live outside.

March, 2004: Jennifer Besler of West Windsor, New Jersey, was awarded $1.5 million by a jury, for an eating disorder caused, she said, after her high school basketball coach yelled at her at the start of her third season that she needed to lose 10 pounds.  The coach apparently yelled at her to eat nutritiously and stay away from junk food. The jury was somehow persuaded that the coach caused her eating disorder.

October 14, 2004 - Barbara Connors, 75, of Medfield, Mass., was riding in a car driven by her son-in-law, when their car left the road and flew 15 feet through the air to splash into the Connecticut River. 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. 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 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.

August 2003: The City of Madera, Calif. Madera police officer Marcy Noriega had the suspect from a minor disturbance handcuffed in the back of her patrol car. When the suspect started to kick at the car's windows, Officer Noriega decided to subdue him with her Taser. Incredibly, instead of pulling her stun gun from her belt, she pulled her service sidearm and shot the man in the chest, killing him instantly. The city, however, says the killing is not the officer's fault; it argues that "any reasonable police officer" could "mistakenly draw and fire a handgun instead of the Taser device" and has filed suit against Taser, arguing the company should pay for any award from the wrongful death lawsuit the man's family has filed. What a slur against every professionally trained police officer who knows the difference between a real gun and a stun gun! And what a cowardly attempt to escape responsibility for the actions of its own under trained officer.

December 2004. Mary Ubaudi of Madison County, Ill., says William Humphrey was driving too fast and, perhaps, she should know: she was a passenger is his car. When they got to a construction zone, Humphrey lost control and flipped the car. Ubaudi was thrown from the vehicle and, her attorney J. Michael Weilmuenster says, sustained severe and life-threatening injuries. Ubaudi has sued Humphrey, asking for "at least $50,000" in damages. But Ubaudi's attorney didn't want to stop there: not if there were some potentially deep pockets to pick.  The lawsuit, filed in Madison County Circuit Court, thus also names Mazda Motors, the manufacturer of Humphrey's car, a Miata. She claims the company "failed to provide instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt."   One hopes Mazda's attorneys make her swear in court that she has never before worn a seatbelt, has never flown on an airliner, and that she's too stupid to figure out how to fasten a seatbelt. Meanwhile, her suit demands "in excess of $150,000" from the automaker, setting their liability at more than three times what the thinks the driver should be on the hook for.

January, 2004: 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 amok and unsupervised inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering that the misbehaving little boy was Ms. Robertson's own son.

June 2003: Doug Baker, 45, of Portland, Ore. Baker says God "steered" him to a stray dog. He admits "People thought I was crazy" to spend $4,000 in vet bills to bring the injured mutt back to health, but hey, it was God's dog! But $4,000 was nothing: he couldn't even take his girlfriend out to dinner without getting a dog-sitter to watch him. When the skittish dog escaped the sitter, Baker didn't just put an ad in the paper, he bought display ads so he could include a photo. His business collapsed since he devoted full time to the search for the dog. He didn't propose to his girlfriend because he wanted the dog to deliver the ring to her. He hired four "animal psychics" to give him clues to the animal's whereabouts, and hired a witch to cast spells. He even spread his own urine around to "mark his territory" to try to lure the dog home! And, he said, he cried every day. Two months in to the search, he went looking for the dog where it got lost -- and quickly found it. His first task: he put a collar on the mutt. (He hadn't done that before for a dog that was so "valuable"?!) After finding the dog, he sued the dog sitter, demanding $20,000 for the cost of his search, $30,000 for the income he lost by letting his business collapse, $10,000 for "the temporary loss of the special value" of the dog, and $100,000 in "emotional damages" -- $160,000 total. God has not been named as a defendant.

November 2003: After Wanda Hudson, 41, of Mobile AL lost her home to foreclosure, she moved her belongings to a storage unit. She says she was inside her unit one night "looking for some papers" when the storage yard manager found the door to her unit ajar -- and locked it. She denies that she was sleeping inside, but incredibly did not call for help or bang on the door to be let out! She was not found for 63 days and barely survived; the formerly "plump" 150-pound woman lived on food she just happened to have in the unit, and was a mere 83 pounds when she was found. She sued the storage yard for $10 million claiming negligence. Even though the jury was not allowed to learn that Hudson had previously diagnosed mental problems, it found Hudson was nearly 100 percent responsible for her own predicament -- but still awarded her $100,000.

 June 1998: 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 didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car while he was trying to steal his neighbor's hubcaps.

October 1998: Terrance Dickson of Bristol, PA was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. Because the automatic door opener was not functioning, he was unable to get the garage door to go up. He couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family that the house belonged to was on vacation. Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found in the garage and a large bag of dry dog food. Mr. Dickson sued the homeowners, claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of $500,000.

October 1999: 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. The dog was on a chain in its owner's fenced-in yard at the time. Mr. Williams was also in the fenced-in yard. The award ended up being less than Mr. Williams sought because the jury felt Mr. Williams who at the time was repeatedly shooting the dog with a pellet gun, might have provoked the dog.

December 1997: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, PA, $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx. The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson threw it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

December 1997: Kara Walton of Claymont, DE, successfully sued the owner of a nightclub when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the women's room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.

February 2002: Police in Vermont stopped a man. After running his name, it came back that there were warrants for his arrest from Florida. Before the police could arrest him, he fled into a nearby forest (in the middle of winter). The police searched for him, but were unable to find him. Three days later, the suspect turned himself into police and was taken to the hospital with frostbite. He ended up having several fingers and toes amputated. He is now suing the police. Why? The police didn't look for him hard enough. He stated in an interview, 'If they had searched harder, they would have found me'. He's accusing the police of dereliction of duty leading to his loss of limbs. Who knows how much this verdict will cost the offending police department?

And just so you know that cooler heads occasionally prevail, Kenmore Inc., the makers of Dorothy Johnson's microwave, were found not liable for the death of Mrs. Johnson' poodle after she gave it a bath and attempted to dry it putting the poor dog in her microwave for "just a few minutes, on low." The case was quickly dismissed.




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Meanwhile, back in court....

Numerous states have enacted measures to reform their civil law systems in response to the problem of frivolous lawsuits and runaway jury awards. Tort reform usually amounts to placing a cap on punitive damage awards, making the state's joint-and-several liability law more equitable, and limiting judge and court shopping (which means cases are tried in front of whomever they've been assigned to, rather than the judge the plaintiff thinks will be most sympathetic).

Our current overly-litigious society is not merely an offense to common sense - it costs everyone money, though most are not aware they pay to support this madness through a trickle-down to consumers in the form of markedly higher prices. This trickle-down accounts, for example, for $8 of an $11.50 diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine, $191 of a $578 tonsillectomy, $170 of a $1,000 motorized wheelchair, and $3,000 of an $18,000 heart pacemaker.

March 2004, a West Virginia man is suing US Airways airline for being ‘negligent in failing to warn him the effects of alcohol are greater at night on airline passengers, causing him to fall down an escalator at Southwest Florida International Airport after he got off the plane.


In March 1995, a San Diego man unsuccessfully attempted to sue the city and Jack Murphy Stadium for $5.4 million over something that can only be described as a wee problem -- Robert Glaser claimed the stadium's unisex bathroom policy at a Billy Joel and Elton John concert caused him embarrassment and emotional distress thanks to the sight of a woman using a urinal in front of him. He subsequently tried "six or seven" other bathrooms in the stadium only to find women in all of them. He asserted he "had to hold it in for four hours" because he was too embarrassed to share the public bathrooms with women.


A San Carlos, CA man is suing the Escondido Public library for $1.5 million. His dog, a 50-pound labrador, was attacked by the library's 12-pound feline mascot, L.C. (also known as Library Cat).


In 1994, a student at the University of Idaho unsuccessfully sued that institution over his fall from a third floor dorm window. He'd been mooning other students when the window gave way. It was contended the University failed to provide a safe environment for students or to properly warn them of the dangers inherent to upper story windows.


In 1993, McDonald's was unsuccessfully sued over a car accident in New Jersey. While driving, a man who had placed a milkshake between his legs, leaned over to reach into his bag of food, and squeezed the milkshake container in the process. When the lid popped off and spilled half the shake in his lap, the driver became distracted and ran into another man's car. That man in turn tried to sue McDonalds' for causing the accident, saying the restaurant should have cautioned the man who had hit him, against eating while driving
Although some of the cases cited above were all eventually dismissed, they still managed to work their way to the highest levels of our court system -- and the defendants spent considerable money hiring attorneys to defend themselves.

Even if the lawsuit is frivolous and eventually thrown out of court, without asset protection you still have the expense of defending yourself. The cost of defending even a frivolous lawsuit routinely reaches $50,000 - $100,000!



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