We’ve all heard the one about the lady that sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee all over herself back in 1992. But hers is far from the most ridiculous case brought to court over the past few decades.
Stella Liebeck’s coffee case was, in fact, much more serious than the public gave her credit for. Other lawsuits follow this pattern—outlandish on the surface but with actual legitimacy once you get past the initial skepticism. Here are a few from recent history.
The Oreo Case
In May of 2003, Stephen L. Joseph filed a suit against Kraft Foods in an attempt to get Oreos banned in California.
The reason? Oreos contain trans fats, which have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Joseph argued that Oreos target young children, who don’t know just how unhealthy the popular cookies are.
On the surface, the claim seems ridiculous—children don’t buy Oreos; their parents do. And responsible parents should know that store-bought, packaged, processed foods like Oreos aren’t exactly a healthy food option. But the complaint goes deeper than that.
Joseph didn’t necessarily want to get Oreos banned because they were unhealthy—he wanted to get them banned because of a provision of California law that states that companies are not responsible for producing unhealthy products as long as it’s widely known that the product is unhealthy (tobacco or cigarettes, for example). Joseph argued that the health concerns associated with trans fats are not widely known…and more, Kraft and Nabisco didn’t even have trans fats listed in the ingredients.
So basically, Joseph was questioning the food industry, and though he dropped the case once the media blew it out of proportion, his concern was valid, and the FDA has since cracked down on what companies are required to list on their ingredient labels.
The Electrocution Case
In 1997, Larry Harris was electrocuted to death when he attempted to break into a bar owned by Jesse and Barbra Ingram. The Harris family sued the Ingrams for wrongful death—even though Larry had been under the influence of both drugs and alcohol and was obviously trying to rob the bar.
The public backed the Ingram family on this one, and ultimately they weren’t charged…but again, the case goes a little deeper.
Protecting life is one thing, but how far should you be allowed to go to protect your property? That’s the question that was raised in court—Ingram was accused of placing personal property above the worth of human life by plugging a metal bar into an outlet and placing it on his bar window to stop intruders.
In some ways, this one is on the line—if Harris hadn’t been under the influence, he might have noticed the warning signs posted on the window. But Harris’ family has a point—this country doesn’t make a habit of executing for petty theft.
The Dating Website Case
Doriana Silva hired an accident lawyer in Toronto in 2013 when she “damaged her wrists” at work…typing up fake profiles for women on a website dedicated to helping married people cheat on their spouses.
Silva claimed that her wrists were permanently damaged by the hundreds of profiles she had to type up in a three-week period.
Medical professionals who examined Silva prescribed nothing more than a good amount of rest, which the company was more than willing to permit. The allegations were not proven in court.
It seems a little strange that Silva would never have provided a statement of defense, and that she is not only asking for compensation based on her “injuries,” but wants a share of the money earned through the profiles she created.
This case seems legitimately ridiculous—although under other circumstances it might be valid. If the dating company really did ignore her concerns about wrist pain, she would probably have a right to worker’s compensation. But since the jury is still out on this one, we’ll have to wait and see what the courts decide.
There are ridiculous lawsuits out there for every topic, and some even more ridiculous than these. But for every nonsensical claim, there are some valid cases that get lumped together with the ones that just don’t make any sense. So before you judge the Liebacks of this world, do your research…some of the crazy people out there might actually have a point.
Melanie Hargrave loves learning new things, especially about law, business, and literature. She has recently enjoyed researching ridiculous and little-known law cases with Pasternak Law. In addition to spending time with her husband and daughters, she loves being outdoors, playing sports, and sharing her experiences with others.