We all have our favorite “ridiculous” lawsuit that we like to talk about around the water cooler. While most seem too bizarre to be true, the fact remains that some lawyer somewhere in the country found enough evidence of liability to accept the case…and some judge agreed to let it proceed through their court. After all, remember the lawsuit against McDonalds for serving coffee that was too hot? Well, as frivolous as it sounded at the time, the jury ruled that the coffee was, indeed, too-hot-to-handle and the plaintiff was awarded damages for burns in her lap. When the facts of the case are scrutinized, there really was enough evidence to allow the lawsuit to go forward.
Some of the most bizarre
But some lawsuits are, indeed, odd and seem grossly unfair to the defendant, who is usually a business with deep pockets.
This post, let’s take a look at some of the suits reported by USA Today recently listed as the most unusual (or frivolous, depending upon your point of view) filed in the past year.
Starbucks is America’s favorite coffee café. With nearly one on every city corner, the franchise operations far outpace other outlets. Despite selling hundreds of millions of cups each year, they are facing a lawsuit by two plaintiffs who complained in a lawsuit that they are not filling their cups all the way to the full line.
A woman who was cell-phone gazing while walking down a busy sidewalk was awarded damages for injuries suffered after she walked into a ladder left unattended by the property owner.
A man in who sold a used printer for $40 on Craigslist ultimately paid more than $30,000 in damages to the buyer who claimed the printer was missing parts and didn’t function properly.
A helicopter mom joined her A+ student son in a lawsuit against Educational Testing Services that administer the SAT college entrance tests. It seems a typing error gave students more time than her son required, which apparently put them on a more even keel with her son and took away any advantage he may have had.
And perhaps some good news: A judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by a California man who complained that the lip balm he purchased was not packaged in such a way to allow the last bit of balm to be extracted from the bottom of the tube.
So what’s the point?
In our previous blog, we discussed various ways owners of small businesses can protect themselves from litigation. Most business owners think carefully about the products and services they offer and plan for every contingency in the event of a product liability lawsuit. But there is simply little a business can do to prevent litigation from an abusive litigator (like the Craigslist customer) or a parent who feels their child isn’t being treated fairly.
When you sit down to review your annual or bi-annual business budget, are you taking into account litigation risk management, which might include litigation insurance. Is it fair that well-run businesses have to worry about frivolous lawsuits? No, of course not. But the fact remains that there are plaintiffs out there who are looking for ways to make money off your business with very little risk to themselves. And it’s even harder to take when a judge reviews the facts and acknowledges there may be something behind the complaint.