The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform recently announced its annual list of the Top 10 Most Ridiculous Lawsuits:
- Starbucks feels the heat from two abusive lawsuits (Ill. and Calif.)
- Court Tosses Lawsuit over Lip Balm Left in Tube (Calif.)
- Woman walks into a ladder while ‘engrossed’ in her cellphone; jury awards her $161,000 (Ga.)
- Monkey Business Coming to Ninth Circuit, Courtesy of PETA (Calif.)
- MasterCard Blasts ‘Baseless’ Lawsuit Over Its ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ Fundraising Promotion (N.J.)
- Lawsuit Turns $40 Printer Sale on Craigslist into $30,000 in Damages
- SoulCycle Rider Alleges Injury to Sue Trendy Indoor Cycling Outfit (Calif.)
- Hot Air: Man Sues Nebraska Cornhuskers To End Balloon Release (Neb.)
- Mom and Son Sue Over SAT Typo that Gave Students Extra Test Time (N.J.)
- Business Owner Fights Back Against Overzealous Government Prosecutors—and Wins (Minn.)
Technically, there are more than 10 items on the list, with Starbucks subjected to two class actions. The coffee chain was dragged into court twice—for putting too much ice in its iced coffee and using an excessive amount of foam in its lattes.
“Too much” of something was a common theme, with excesses making the top and bottom of the list and several spots in between. Coming in at the bottom, a Minnesota medical device maker fought what he believed were excessive criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleged that his company illegally marketed a device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat varicose veins. A video posted by ILR’s website and on FacesOfLawsuitAbuse.org explained that the charges originated with an inaccurate whistleblower complaint from a former employee. The manufacturer said the product in question amounted to 0.1 percent of sales, but that it took over 100 lawyers and $25 million to score a victory against the government.
Other suits over excesses come in the middle of the list, with a MasterCard member complaining that the credit card company raised too much money when it continued advertising a cancer fundraising promotion well after it reached its $4 million initial goal—ultimately raising $30 million. That suit came in at No. 5 on the list.
Coming in at No. 9 is a class action against the Educational Testing Service and the College Board. The suit alleges that some students were given too much time to complete a portion of their SAT tests because a typo indicated the time allotted was 25 minutes rather than 20 minute. Not all testing locations heeded the instruction in the typo, unfairly penalizing some test takers, the suit alleged.
Too much exercise was the subject of the suit ranked No. 7—from a soul cyclist claiming injury during a corporate event.
While that suit and six others among the Top 10 originate in states were branded as “judicial hellholes” in a list separately announced by the American Tort Reform Foundation this month, Ridiculous Suit No. 8 stands out as unique in that regard. It comes from the Cornhusker State of Nebraska—not exactly a hot spot for litigation.
According to ILR and ESPN, the claimant in the suit against the University of Nebraska sought to end the school’s tradition of releasing red balloons following the first season touchdown by the University football team. Describing the balloon release as “the open dumping of solid waste,” he said it threatened the health and safety of children and wildlife. (The school contends the balloons are biodegradable latex and the cotton strings are environmentally friendly.)
The ILR list includes one repeat entrant—a case brought by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about whether a monkey or a photographer owns the copyright to a selfie taken by the monkey. Coming in at No. 1 on the list of ridiculous lawsuits in December last year, in January, a federal judge tossed out the suit, affirming the U.S. Copyright Office’s position that copyrights can only be held by human beings. The case is still in the court system and back on ILR’s 2016 list, with PETA filing an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August.
Samsung, Allstate in the Crosshairs
What will next year bring for defendants and insurers that pay to help them fight lawsuits brought against them?
Even as ILR was tallying up online votes, lawyers were busy preparing new complaints. And while two of the latest are not likely to make the “Most Ridiculous List” next year, they caught the attention of Carrier Management’s editors because they crossed the wires as we were publishing this article.
One, released under the banner “Attorney Advertising” by the Seattle office of Keller Rohrback L.L.P., announces the investigation of customer complaints about the glass covering of the rear-facing camera lens on the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, and S7 Active. According to the announcement, the glass may “spontaneously shatter, rendering the camera unusable” even though no external force is applied, “leaving a perfect circle in the center of the glass as if it had been shot out.”
Alleging that Samsung has consistently denied any responsibility for the defect, “instead blaming its customers and refusing to repair or refund the devices even while still under warranty,” the attorneys urge customers with similar problems to contact them.
Meanwhile, at least nine law firms continue to send out reminders to try to attract Allstate shareholders to join a securities class action and file applications to serve as lead plaintiff. The firms started announcing the class action in mid-November and continued through the end of December, alleging false statements and omissions that artificially inflated Allstate stock prices from late 2014 through the August 2015 when disappointing second-quarter results drove the price down. The typical law firm alert suggests that Allstate officers failed to disclose that the reason for the company’s sudden spike in its auto claims frequency. Lawyers contend this was “growth in its auto policy business through higher risk drivers,” not external events such as weather and increased miles driven.
About the ILR List
The Top Ten Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2016 were chosen from the year’s ten most popular stories featured on FacesOfLawsuitAbuse.org, and then ranked according to a national Google Consumer Survey of 5,000 consumers across America. That survey was conducted November 16-18, 2016.
ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the global, national, state, and local levels. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.
Sources: U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform; Attorney Advertising