By Alan Graner
Ah yes, time for the annual Stella Awards, named in honor of Stella Lieback who successfully sued McDonald’s Restaurants.
The crime: In 1992 the New Mexico McDonald’s willfully and wantonly sold Stella Lieback a cup of hot coffee!
She placed the cup between her knees, pulled open the lid to add cream and sugar and spilled the entire cup of coffee in her lap, scalding her skin and suffering third degree burns on her thighs, buttocks and groin.
She spent eight days in the hospital getting skin grafts.
Her attorneys argued McDonald’s coffee was “defective,” i.e., it was hotter than any other restaurants’ coffee and therefore more likely to cause a serious injury.
The verdict: The jury awarded Stella $160,000 to cover medical expenses and compensatory damages, and $2.7 million in punitive damages. (The judge later reduced the amount awarded.)
And thus was born the Stella Awards, given out each year for the most outrageous frivolous lawsuit.
Without further ado, the 2012 Stella Awards. The envelopes please. And the winners are….
5th Place (tie): Ms. Kathleen Robertson, Austin, Texas
The crime: She broke her ankle tripping over a toddler running inside a furniture store. The misbehaving child? It was hers.
The verdict: The jury awarded her $80,000.
5th Place (tie): Mr. Carl Truman, Los Angeles
The crime: His neighbor drove over his hand…while Mr. Truman was stealing the car’s hubcaps.
The verdict: The jury awarded him $74,000 plus medical expenses.
5th Place (tie): Mr. Terrence Dickson, Bristol, Pennsylvania
The crime: After robbing a house, Mr. Dickson escaped through the garage, little knowing the automatic door opener was malfunctioning while the connecting door to the house automatically locked when it was closed. Since the family was on vacation, Mr. Dickson remained trapped in the garage for eight days with only a case of Pepsi-Cola and a large bag of dry dog food to keep him alive.
The verdict: The jury awarded him $500,000 for undue mental anguish.
4th Place: Mr. Jerry Williams, Little Rock, Arkansas
The crime: Mr. Williams climbed over the fence into his neighbor’s yard where a beagle was chained, and began shooting the dog repeatedly with a pellet gun. For some reason, the dog reacted unkindly, biting Mr. Williams on the buttocks.
The verdict: The jury awarded him $14,500 plus medical expenses.
3rd Place: Ms. Amber Carson, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The crime: While arguing with her boyfriend in a Philadelphia restaurant, Ms. Carson angrily threw a soft drink at her boyfriend, then slipped on the spilled beverage and broke her tailbone.
The verdict: The jury directed the restaurant to pay her $113,500.
2nd Place: Ms. Kara Walton, Claymont, Delaware
The crime: As Ms. Walton attempted to sneak into a night club through the ladies bathroom window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, she fell to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth.
The verdict: The jury awarded her $12,000 plus dental expenses.
1st Place: Mrs. Merv Grazinski, Oklahoma City
The crime: On her first trip in her new 32-foot Winnebago motor home, Mrs. Grazinski entered the freeway, set the cruise control at 70 mph, then strolled into the back to make herself a sandwich. The unattended motor home drove off the freeway, crashed and overturned. She sued Winnebago because their owner’s manual never warned her not to leave the driver’s seat.
The verdict: The jury awarded her $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. (And yes, Winnebago changed its owner’s manuals.)
As someone once said, “Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.”
What are your reactions?
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA marketing communications firm. If you want “outrageous” PR that gets results, email Jeffrey Swartz at email@example.com.