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“Frivolous” personal injury lawsuits that are more Judge Judy and less Jerry Springer

“Frivolous” personal injury lawsuits that are more Judge Judy and less Jerry Springer

Lawsuits like those filed by rapper 50 Cent against Taco Bell for suggesting he change his name to “99 Cent” as a marketing gimmick leave us in stitches. If those types of lawsuits serve any purpose, it is to amuse those who think that the legal system is broken. But we don’t agree.

Here’s what we think: The writers of frivolous lawsuits listicles need to reassess the cases they author. The following suits, often included in such articles, are anything but.

The burglary that shone a spotlight on tort liability for land possessors

The infamous case of the young burglar who fell through a school’s skylight, got injured, and sued the school for damages has several versions floating online. Here are the barebones facts culled from various legitimate sources (i.e., NOT tabloids):

In 1982, 18-year-old Californian Rick Bodine and some friends tried to steal the spotlights from the Enterprise High School gym. As Rick snuck across the roof, he stepped on a blackened surface, which turned out to be a skylight that was painted over because the school deemed it a nuisance.

Rick fell through the roof and landed on his head, so he and his friends did not go home with the coveted spotlights. Instead, he suffered brain-stem damage that left him mute and quadriplegic.

The school did not press charges, but Rick’s family filed for a personal injury lawsuit. It was ultimately settled with a $260,000 payout and a monthly stipend of around $1,500.

If you ask us, there’s nothing frivolous or funny about this case. In fact, the only ones laughing are California property owners who have been burgled since the case. After all, Bodine vs. Enterprise High School was instrumental in changing the California Civil Code that eliminated property owners’ liability when intruders get injured while trespassing on their property.

Rick and friends may have failed to steal the spotlights, but their case shone a light on the tort liability of land possessors.

The burning-hot McDonald’s coffee case

No personal injury lawsuit is as woefully mislabeled frivolous as Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s aka the McDonald's coffee case. Lest you think we’re lacking in humor, here’s why we do not find this piece of litigation funny or frivolous:

  • Stella Liebeck, who was 79 years old at the time of the accident, suffered third-degree burns from a cup of coffee!
  • Contrary to several reports, she wasn’t driving the vehicle and not not paying attention; she was on the passenger side of the car of her grandson, who had parked the vehicle so she could add cream and sugar to her coffee that spilled on her thighs and groin.
  • She was confined in the hospital for eight days and was partially disabled for two years.

Ms. Liebeck sued McDonald’s for $2.8 million but was only awarded $640,000. If she’d gotten a higher payout, she would’ve deserved it, too.

There’s nothing frivolous — or funny — about filing a lawsuit against a fast food chain that serves coffee at 190 degrees Fahrenheit (which is at least 50 degrees hotter than McDonald's protocol) that gives you life-threatening burns. Frivolous would be if she filed suit against Ford (the car her grandson was driving) for not manufacturing cars without a cup holder.

The unforeseen ruling on a malpractice lawsuit

There’s little evidence to suggest that psychic powers are real. But that didn’t prevent Judith Haimes from Philadelphia to claim damages for the psychic superpowers that she lost due to a CAT scan. It all sounds silly until you analyze the facts of the case.

After being informed of the CAT scan procedure, Ms. Haimes told her doctors at Temple University Hospital that she’s allergic to dyes. Despite her objection, the doctors still performed the procedure, which allegedly resulted in Ms. Haimes suffering from crippling headaches, hives, welts, and other allergic symptoms.

It’s a clear-cut malpractice lawsuit that was sensationalized with a “Woman loses psychic powers, sues hospital” headline. Still, we couldn’t fully blame the creative spin on this case; Ms. Haimes, after all, claimed that she was able to read people’s auras and help law enforcers solve crimes by peering into the past and the future — skills that she had lost because of the CAT scan, resulting to loss of income.

The jury decided that she should be awarded $988,000 for her pain and suffering. However, she didn’t foresee the judge’s decision to ignore the jury’s decision, dismiss her case, and award her with nothing.

The decision was made not because the judge thought she was off her rocker but because she and her lawyer weren’t able to prove that the dye caused her severe allergies.

Lawsuits aren’t frivolous because one or two bloggers say they are. If you or a loved one suffered injuries and you believe you’re entitled to claim damages, let Renton personal injury attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams weigh in.