Legally Speaking: The Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2010 and a Contender for 2011

John G. Browning Feb. 15, 2011, 10:53am

Editor's note: The Southeast Texas Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently released the results of its annual poll of the most ridiculous lawsuits of the past year.

The Institute for Legal Reform does this as part of its campaign to create awareness of the impact of abusive lawsuits on small businesses, communities and individuals—because while some of the cases on the list are funny, the damage that can be inflicted by frivolous lawsuits is very real indeed.

As ILR President Lisa Richard puts it, "more litigation is something we can ill afford in this troubled economy that desperately needs more jobs, not more lawsuits."

"Legally Speaking" readers are familiar with at least one of the lawsuits on this list. Pedestrian Lauren Rosenberg sued Google for negligence after she was struck by a motorist on a four-lane boulevard in Park City, Utah.

Rosenberg claims that she downloaded walking directions to her destination from Google Maps, but that the online source failed to tell her she would be traversing a busy roadway. Her attorney, Allen Young, says Google "created a trap with walking instructions that people rely on. She relied on it and thought she should cross the street."

The case ignited a firestorm in the media and in the court of public opinion over Rosenberg's apparently blind adherence to online directions while ignoring her own safety.

Another, and perhaps equally notorious case, involved troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan filing a $100 million lawsuit against financial services company E-Trade for alleged defamation.

Filed, no doubt, in between rehab stints, the suit alleged that a commercial with babies who play the stock market featured one baby boy apologizing to his girlfriend for not calling her the night before, only to be accused by the baby girl of having "that milkaholic Lindsay" over instead. The commercial ends with another baby girl poking her head in at that comment, and slurring "Milk-a-what?"

The addled Ms. Lohan claimed that, like Oprah or Madonna, she enjoys single name recognition, and that the commercial unfairly traded off her established celebrity. E-Trade maintained that it was simply using a popular baby name; the case was settled within a few months.

Other lawsuits on the list are just as nonsensical, albeit less publicized. Emily Braxton of Charleston, W.Va., filed a $50 billion lawsuit against three Charleston physicians, along with Oprah Winfrey, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush.

She alleged that they surgically implanted a camera with wire sensors into her "with the intent of reincarnation," and that the defendants are monitoring her 24 hours a day. Let's hope that even after the lawsuit gets dismissed, someone ups whatever medication Emily Braxton is on.

And then there's transgendered murderer Michelle (formerly Robert) Kosilek, who filed suit in federal court in Boston against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. Kosilek was convicted of killing his wife.

In 1993, while in prison, he legally changed his name to Michelle and began taking hormone treatments. He sued the state twice seeking a sex-change operation at taxpayer expense, and the 2010 lawsuit sought state-funded electrolysis hair-removal treatments since having facial hair is "intensely personally stressful" for Kosilek.

I've got breaking news for you, Kosilek—it's called a razor. If you want to be kissably smooth, use one—don't try to stick hardworking taxpayers with the tab for your "transformation."

Electrolysis treatments at public expense are one thing, but don't mess with a man's mojo. At least, that's the message 49-year-old Craig Clark Snow wants to convey with his lawsuit. The Portland, Ore., man claims that when Idaho police arrested him for drunk driving, they opened a "medicine bag" that had been blessed by a "medicine woman" and closed since 1995.

Snow's lawsuit alleges that the policemen's acts destroyed the "mystical powers" of the bag, which had provided Snow with protection.

I've got news for you, Craig—if your "medicine bag" actually worked, you wouldn't have been arrested in the first place, and you wouldn't have had a blood alcohol level of .16.

Other lawsuits on the list were filed by professionals who, one might think, ought to know better. Anyone who's ever bought an item on eBay and been disappointed can empathize with Michael Steadman.

In 2008, Steadman purchased a time clock for $44 off eBay, only to discover that it arrived in three pieces that didn't fit together and allegedly didn't function.

Although he received a refund through a PayPal buyer protection plan, Steadman wanted to warn other buyers about "emiller1313," so he posted a remark characterizing him as a "bad seller" with "the ethics of a used car salesman."

As it turns out, however, "emiller1313" turned out to be Miami Beach lawyer Elliot Miller, who sued Steadman for ruining his 100 percent customer approval rating and damaging his "commercial reputation."

So far, defending himself in the defamation lawsuit over the $44 time clock has cost welding shop owner Steadman more than $7,000. No small wonder, then, why he warns everyone who goes online "not to leave feedback."

Another Miami man, Arturo Carvajal, is suing Hillstone Restaurant Group (the owner of Houston's restaurants) for failing to instruct him how to eat the grilled artichoke special he ordered during a recent night out.

Carvajal ate the entire artichoke, including the outer leaves not meant to be eaten, and as a result wound up in the hospital with severe abdominal pain. Carvajal filed a lawsuit—only the whole story is he is Dr. Arturo Carbajal, a family medicine specialist. Physician, heal thyself.

The final three lawsuits on the list are illustrations of chutzpah in action. It was bad enough when a Kalispell, Mont., teenage girl attempted to commit suicide (following a fight with her boyfriend) by driving her car into oncoming traffic. It turned tragically worse when the resulting crash killed 35-year-old wife and mother Erin Thompson, her unborn child and her 13-year-old son.

But it became downright bizarre when the would-be suicide (who survived the collision and was charged with homicide) turned around and sued the victims' surviving family members, claiming the accident was actually Thompson's fault.

It's as if the girl, who police say was going 85 mph when she crossed the centerline, is getting her legal advice from Lewis Carroll.

The "Alice in Wonderland" analogy is equally apt for the case of Ann Knopf. The former Prescott, Wisc., substitute teacher and convicted child molester actually sued the parents of the 13-year-old boy she had repeatedly assaulted over five months, claiming they contributed to the abuse by failing to do enough to stop her.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals shut down her "up is down, black is white" lawsuit, ruling that "we will not follow down the rabbit hole and open the door for a child molester to sue the victim's parents for their failure to lock their child away or for their ineffectiveness in trying to stop the child from being sexually abused."

Following in the same vein is Michael Dupree of St. Petersburg, Fla. Dupree is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for burglary, but he's suing the three men who caught and subdued him until police arrived at the scene.

Dupree claims the rough citizens arrest hurt him, resulting in "permanent disabilities and psychological disorders;" he wants $500,000 plus punitive damages.

While it didn't make the list because it was filed in January 2011, the lawsuit filed by Alex Good of Hillsboro, Ore., is an early contender for next year's.

The 15-year-old high school golfer was practicing at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club; when he teed off, his golf ball struck a metal post close to his driving mat, ricocheted off, and struck him in the left eye. Even though he was hit with his own golf ball, Alex Good wants $3 million.

It sounds like young Mr. Good—like the litigants who made the ILR's list—could use a lesson in personal responsibility.

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