Absurdity personified refers to the U.S. Legal System, not to any person in particular.
It’s time again for the annual Stella Awards. For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck, who spilled hot coffee on herself, and successfully sued the McDonald’s in New Mexico, where she purchased the coffee. She took the lid off the coffee, and put it between her knees while she was driving.
These are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits, and verdicts, in the U.S. Absurdity personified is reflected in the Stellas for this year:
SEVENTH PLACE: Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle by tripping over a toddler, who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was Kathleen’s own son.
SIXTH PLACE: Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, California won $74,000, plus medical expenses, when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.
FIFTH PLACE: Terrence Dickson, of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut. Forced to sit for EIGHT days, and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company, claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000.
FOURTH PLACE: Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500, plus medical expenses, after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor’s beagle – even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard. Williams didn’t get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite – Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard, and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun. (The dog should have gone for the front not the back!)
THIRD PLACE: Amber Carson, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, slipped on a spilled soft drink, and broke her tailbone. A jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her $113,500 even though the reason the soft drink was on the floor was that Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
SECOND PLACE: Kara Walton, of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000, plus dental expenses.
FIRST PLACE: This year’s runaway First Place Stella Award winner was Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home, drove onto the freeway, set the cruise control at 70 mph, and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her, are you sitting down? $1,750,000, PLUS a new motor home. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski had any relatives who might also buy a motor home.
These instances of a legal system completely out of control are laughable at best and criminally incompetent at worst. They bear repeating on both counts. Absurdity personified!