Suing in America

8 October 2010 at 6:10 pm 9 comments

| Lasse Lien |

As a temporary resident of the US I find much to enjoy and admire. What I find slightly less admirable is the American litigiousness and the transaction costs it creates (for example the endless number of forms and paperwork needed to get simple services ). Here are some “random” examples of lawsuits (via Clean Laughs):

An inmate filed a $5 million lawsuit against himself (he claimed that he violated his own civil rights by getting arrested) — then asked the state to pay because he has no income in jail. He said, “I want to pay myself 5 million dollars, but ask the state to pay it on my behalf since I can’t work and am a ward of the state.” The judge was not impressed by his ingenuity, and dismissed the suit as frivolous. (Source: CALA)

A convicted bank robber on parole robbed a California Savings and Loan Branch. The bank robber placed the money roll containing the hidden Security Pac in his front pants pocket. The Security Pac released tear gas and red dye resulting in second and third degree burns requiring treatment at a hospital. The bank robber sued the bank, the Security Pac manufacturer, the city the police and the hospital. (Source: ATRA)

A writer was sued for $60 million dollars after writing a book about a convicted Orange County serial killer. Although the inmate is on death row, he claimed that he was innocent in all 16 murders, so the characterization of him as a serial killer was false, misleading and “defamed his good name”. In addition, he claimed those falsehoods would cause him to be “shunned by society and unable to find decent employment” once he returned to private life. The case was thrown out in a record 46 seconds, but only after $30,000 in legal fees were incurred by the writer’s publisher. (Source: CALA)

A minister and his wife sued a guide-dog school for $160,000 after a blind man learning to use a seeing-eye dog trod on the woman’s toes in a shopping mall. South-eastern Guide Dogs Inc., a 13-year old guide-dog school and the only one of its kind in the Southeast, raises and trains seeing-eye dogs at no cost to the visually impaired. The school is located about 35 miles south of Tampa. The lawsuit was brought by Carolyn Christian and her husband, the Rev. William Christian. Each sought $80,000. The couple filed suit 13 months after Ms Christian’s toe was stepped on and reportedly broken by a blind man who was learning to use his new guide dog, Freddy, under the supervision of an instructor. They were practicing at a shopping mall. According to witnesses, Ms Christian made no effort to get out of the blind man’s way because she “wanted to see if the dog would walk around me”. (Source: ATRA and Houston Chronicle, 95-10-27)

A woman was treated by a psychiatrist from March to November 1986, became romantically involved with him, and subsequently married him in October of 1989. After more than five years of marriage they divorced in 1995, at which time the woman sued her ex-husband for psychiatric malpractice and negligence claiming that the romantic or sexual relationship between them started before the formal psychiatric treatment ended. She contended that her ex-husband had breached the standard of care as a psychiatrist by becoming romantically involved with her, and sought general, special and punitive damages.
(Source: CALA)

A woman in Israel is suing a TV station and its weatherman for $1,000 after he predicted a sunny day and it rained. The woman claims the forecast caused her to leave home lightly dressed. As a result, she caught the flu, missed 4 days of work, spent $38 on medication and suffered stress. (Source: CALA)

A Los Angeles attorney sued another attorney who had hung a cardboard tombstone in his office that read, “R.I.P./Jerry Garcia (a few too many parties perhaps?).” The plaintiff lawyer, a Garcia groupie, alleged this joke caused him “humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress” after seeing the sign. He further added that he had suffered injury to his mind and body (specifics were not listed in the suit). (Source: CALA)

A woman was playing golf and hit a shot which ricocheted off railroad tracks that run through the course. The ball hit her in the nose and she won $40,000 because the golf course had a “free lift” rule (this allows golfers to toss balls which land near the rails to the other side). The woman alleged that because the course allowed a free lift, they were, in effect, acknowledging the rails to be a hazard. (Source: CALA)

A surfer recently sued another surfer for “taking his wave.” The case was ultimately dismissed because they were unable to put a price on “pain and suffering” endured by watching someone ride the wave that was “intended for you.” (Source: CALA)

A woman went into a Northridge discount department store to buy a blender. She decided to take the bottom box from a stack of four blenders from an upper shelf used to store extra stock. When she pulled out the bottom box, the rest of the boxes fell. She sued the store for not warning customers from taking stock from the upper shelf and for stacking the boxes so high. She claimed to sustain carpal tunnel syndrome and neck, shoulder and back pain. (Source: CALA)

A college student in Idaho decided to “moon” someone from his 4th story dorm room window. He lost his balance, fell out of his window, and injured himself in the fall. Now the student expects the University to take the fall; he is suing them for “not warning him of the dangers of living on the 4th floor”. (Source: CALA)

A jury awarded $178,000 in damages to a woman who sued her former fiance for breaking their seven-week engagement. The breakdown: $93,000 for pain & suffering; $60,000 for loss of income from her legal practice, and $25,000 for psychiatric counselling expenses. (Source: CALA)

A woman driving a car collided with a man who was riding a snowmobile. The man died at the scene. Since his snowmobile had suddenly cut in front of her, police said she was free of blame. She sued the man’s widow for the psychological injuries she suffered from watching the man die. (Source: CALA)

While climbing a mountain, a young man slipped and fell 90 feet and sustained injuries. The mountain rescue unit, which has saved hundreds of lives over the past 30 years, worked with a physician and a paramedic to mount a difficult night time helicopter rescue. The rescuers probably saved the man’s life…but he turned around and slapped then with a $12 million lawsuit. (Source: AVALA)

A woman cut her hand while using a knife to separate frozen hors d’oeuvres that she bought at a supermarket. She sued the supermarket, and the manufacturer and packager of the frozen food item. (Source: AVALA)

A woman dropped some burglar bars on her foot. She claimed that her neighbour, who was helping her carry the bars, had caused the accident. The neighbour’s insurance company offered to settle the dispute by paying her medical bills, but she refused. She wanted more and sued for damages, including “pain and suffering.” The jury took only 17 minutes to unanimously decide that the woman was fully responsible for her own injuries. The innocent neighbor had to pay $4,700 in defense costs. The two are no longer friends. (Source: AVALA)

A bank discovered that millions of dollars deposited in an account were in fact embezzled funds. The bank transferred the funds back to the lawful owner and got sued! The embezzler’s alleged accomplice filed a lawsuit against the bank for returning the money, and asked for $20 million in damages. The bank won in court, but only after spending over $20,000 in legal fees. (Source: AVALA)

A man joined a group to learn, among other things, to fly through self-levitation. Unsatisfied with the results, he claimed psychological and physical damages and sued the group for $9 million. (Source: AVALA)

A man was invited to his parents’ house to celebrate the Fourth of July. He became intoxicated. And when one of the firework she brought with him to the party did not ignite, he went over to inspect it, and it exploded in his face. He sued his parents, the co-worker who sold him the fireworks, and his employer. (Source: AVALA)

A drunk driver was speeding, careened passed detour signs and crashed. He sued the engineering firm that designed the road, the contractor, four subcontractors and state highway department property which owned both sides of the road. Five years later, all of the defendants settled for $35,000. The engineering firm was swamped with over $200,000 in legal costs. (Source: ATRA)

A man sued Anheuser-Busch for $10,000 for false advertising. He claimed that he suffered physical and mental injury and emotional distress from the implicit promises in the advertisements. When he drank the beverage, success with women did not come true for him plus, he got sick. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court decision dismissing the case. (Source: ATRA)

Inmates at a county jail sued for cruel and unusual living conditions: bunk beds, cells lacking a sink and toilet, and no way to exercise in the winter. These criminals were awarded $2 million dollars, paid by the taxpayers of Massachusetts. Each inmate who was a party to the suit got $10 tax-free, for each day he was jailed. Their award included damages plus 12% interest from the time the case was settled until the time they collected their windfall. (Source: ATRA)

A New York appeals court rejected a woman’s lawsuit against the company that makes the device called “The Clapper”, which activates selected appliances on the sound of a clap. She claimed she hurt her hands because she had to clap too hard in order to turn her appliances on: “I couldn’t peel potatoes (when my hands hurt). I never ate so many baked potatoes in my life. I was in pain.” However, the judge said she had merely failed to adjust the sensitivity controls. (Source: ATRA and SAALA)

John Carter, a New Jersey man, sued McDonald’s for injuries he sustained in an auto accident with one of their customers. He claimed that the customer who hit him did so after spilling the contents of his chocolate shake (which he purchased from McDonald’s) onto his lap while reaching over for his fries. He alleged that McDonald’s sold their customer food knowing he would consume it while driving and without announcing or affixing a warning to the effect “don’t eat and drive.” The court concluded that McDonald’s had no duty to warn customers of obvious things which they should expect to know, but refused McDonald’s request for attorney’s fees stating that the plaintiff’s attorney was “creative, imaginative and he shouldn’t be penalized for that.” This case was in the court system for three years, underwent appellate court review and cost McDonald’s over $10,000. (Source: ATRA and SAALA)

Entry filed under: - Lien -, Ephemera, Law and Economics.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Scott Masten  |  8 October 2010 at 7:08 pm

    The claim that the US is litigious is entirely rejected by the fact that item number 6 in the list took place in Israel!

  • 2. k  |  8 October 2010 at 8:02 pm

    The data is out of date but the rate of suit in California is 106 /100K. UK 103/1OOK While is 6/100K in Montana( suit per hab)

  • 3. Lasse  |  8 October 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I’ll sue all of you for those comments

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  8 October 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Lasse, don’t forget to mention that you’re in the US on a prestigious fellowship, visiting an major university, doing important stuff. (Whatever it might be.)

  • 5. Thomas  |  9 October 2010 at 9:24 am

    This even happens in academia.

    A professor (in Israel) is suing an (American) editor for “criminal libel” (in France). His “crime”? He published a short, tepid review of her book. (more here.)

    Oh yes (while I’m at it), I once had a comment rejected from a journal’s correspondence website out of a concern that the author I was criticizing might sue for defamation. (Long story.)

  • 6. k  |  10 October 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Yes, you have a point

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-08/taleb-says-crisis-makes-nobel-panel-liable-for-legitimizing-economists.html

    And also the Lott- freackeconomy suit

  • 7. Lasse  |  12 October 2010 at 3:04 pm

    k: would that be a black swan for the nobel comittee?

  • 8. Jay Livingston  |  13 October 2010 at 9:50 am

    In nearly all the cases above, there is no information about how far the case got. People are permitted to file suits — imagine the alternative in which courts are largely closed to all but a few — but that doesn’t mean that the suits were succesful or that they even got very far. It would be useful to have some estimate for each case of how much it cost the state and the defendants.

    As for the suits that resulted in a seemingly ludicrous award to the plaintiff, I suspect that we are not getting all the relevant information (as in the notorious McDonald’s hot-coffee suit). Judges and juries are not utter fools; they hear both sides and return a verdict.

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