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Urban Legends

Everyday, serious personal tragedies happen to real people. In addition, there are also cases that stretch and bend personal injury and tort law to its limit.

Confused? Well, I’m sure most of you have heard of the man who purchased a new Winnebago motor home in 2000. On his first big drive he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly got up to make himself a cup of coffee in the back. It was no surprise when the motor home crashed and overturned. It was a surprise however, when the man sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he could not do that. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago, and the handbook was corrected to reflect that one couldn’t leave the driver’s seat while driving.

The important thing about this case is the fact that it never happened. This ridiculous claim and many others have been traveling the Internet for years, according to reputable urban-myth debunking site, Snopes.com.

Some other urban-law-legends?

1. January 2000: Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas was awarded $780,000.00 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running amuck inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving tyke was Ms. Robertson’s son.
2. June 1998: A 19-year-old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000.00 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran his hand over with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn’t notice someone was at the wheel of the car whose hubcap he was trying to steal.
3. October 1998: A Terrence Dickson of Bristol Pennsylvania was exiting a house he finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up, because the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, so Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. This upset Mr. Dickson, so he sued the homeowner’s insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of half a million dollars and change.
4. October 1999: Jerry Williams of Little Rock Arkansas was awarded $14,500.00 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor’s beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced-in yard, as was Mr. Williams. The award was less than sought after because the jury felt the dog may have been provoked by Mr. Williams who, at the time, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.
5. May 2000: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500.00 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her coccyx. The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson threw it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
6. December 1997: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware successfully sued the owner of a night club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000.00 and dental expenses.

Now I know you are thinking, “There have to be some cases that are hard to believe, but true?” And, well, there are. Below are several lawsuits that actually have been filed. It is important to note however that all the lawsuits listed below were eventually dismissed.

1. In March 1995, a San Diego man unsuccessfully attempted to sue the city and Jack Murphy Stadium for $5.4 million over something that can only be described as a wee problem: Robert Glaser claimed the stadium’s unisex bathroom policy at a Billy Joel and Elton John concert caused him embarrassment and emotional distress thanks to the sight of a woman using a urinal in front of him. He subsequently tried “six or seven” other bathrooms in the stadium only to find women in all of them. He asserted he “had to hold it in for four hours” because he was too embarrassed to share the public bathrooms with women.
2. A San Carlos, California, man sued the Escondido Public Library for $1.5 million. His dog, a 50-pound Labrador mix, was attacked November 2000 by the library’s 12-pound feline mascot, L.C., (also known as Library Cat). The case was heard in January 2004, with the jury finding for the defendant. In a further case which was resolved in July 2004, the plaintiff in the previous suit was ordered to pay the city $29,362.50, which amounted to 75% of its legal fees associated with that case.
3. In 1994, a student at the University of Idaho unsuccessfully sued that institution over his fall from a third-floor dorm window. He’d been mooning other students when the window gave way. It was contended the University failed to provide a safe environment for students or to properly warn them of the dangers inherent to upper-story windows.
4. In 1993, McDonald’s was unsuccessfully sued over a car accident in New Jersey. While driving, a man who had placed a milkshake between his legs, leaned over to reach into his bag of food and squeezed the milkshake container in the process. When the lid popped off and spilled half the drink in his lap, this driver became distracted and ran into another man’s car. That man in turn tried to sue McDonald’s for causing the accident, saying the restaurant should have cautioned the man who had hit him against eating while driving.
Although all of the cases cited above were all eventually dismissed, they still managed to work their way at least partway through our court system.

The bottom line? As entertaining as these stories are, the legal process is a complex and time-consuming one. If you have a real case that cased real damages, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable tort and personal injury lawyer.