Legally Speaking: Lawsuits You Just Won't Believe

By John G. Browning | Mar 31, 2010

Readers often ask if I make up some of the more outrageous lawsuits that are featured in this column. The sad truth is that I'm not that inventive.

Fortunately for me, though, I don't have to be – the legal system seems to provide a never-ending cornucopia of the bizarre. If you don't believe me, just consider the following examples.

She's Not Clowning Around

In March, 56-year-old Sherri Perper of Queens, N.Y., filed a personal injury suit against Rubie's Costume Co., its division Forum Novelties and retailer Party City, over what she claims were a pair of defective clown shoes.

Perper alleges that she purchased the pair of large plastic shoes and wore them as part of her costume to a Halloween party on Oct. 31, 2008. She says she fell over while wearing the "dangerous" shoes, sustaining what her lawyer Catherine Montiel calls "severe fracture injuries."

The defendant companies haven't commented on the lawsuit filed in Queens County. I, however, had a couple of questions.

First of all, they're clown shoes, for crying out loud; they're supposed to be big and floppy. What did Ms. Perper think she was buying, a pair of tasteful dress pumps? What's next, a claim that she had an allergic reaction to greasepaint and a bulbous red nose?

I don't want to call her lawyers bozos, but I will be a tad disappointed if Perper's legal team doesn't drive up to the courthouse in an overcrowded tiny car and pile out of it.

There's a "Lifetime" Movie in This Somewhere

Fifty-six-year-old widow Fayette Nale is suing Ford Motor Co. for the survivor and pension benefits of her late husband, Michael, a longtime Ford employee who died in 2007. There's one problem: Michael Nale died after Mrs. Nale stabbed him to death, a crime for which she's now serving a three-to-15-year sentence at a women's prison in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Ford maintains that she is not entitled to half of her husband's pension of over $1,000 a month, because of exclusions for those who are involved in "an intentional causing of death."

Nale's attorney argues that she shouldn't be denied the survivor benefits, since the original charge of second-degree murder was reduced to voluntary manslaughter after Nale testified about enduring months of physical and sexual abuse before killing her husband.

If this ploy works, expect children convicted of murdering their parents to ask for leniency because they're orphans.

That's Why They Call It "Burning Man," Idiot

Anthony Beninati sued the organizers of the Burning Man festival for negligently failing to keep him away from a giant bonfire that closes the festival. Beninati walked into a ring of fire, and – surprise, surprise – sustained severe burns as a result.

The court, noting Beninanti's own admission that he knew it wasn't "absolutely safe, because there [was] a fire present," ruled that Beninati assumed the risk of injury.

Burning Man is known for its counter-culture atmosphere and music, but maybe they could dedicate a rendition of the Johnny Cash classic "Ring of Fire" to Mr. Beninati and his unsuccessful lawsuit.

Polly Wants a Cracker, Not a Frivolous Lawsuit

Ryan Williams has filed a lawsuit against Florida resort Palm Beach Shores, claiming that a parrot at its Tiki Bar restaurant attacked Williams' 14-month-old son, Gavin.

Williams claims that on Oct. 6, 2009, he and his family were dining at the Tiki Bar when he took Gavin to see the parrot, a blue and gold macaw. The toddler put his finger "near or inside" the parrot's cage, and the parrot grabbed the finger in his beak.

When Mr. Williams grabbed at the bird's beak, trying to free his son, the parrot bit down and amputated part of the boy's finger.

But Williams isn't merely suing for the personal injuries to his child; he's claiming emotional distress from witnessing the "disturbing and grotesque consumption of his toddler son's finger by this wild and vicious . . . parrot."

I'm sorry for little Gavin – not just because he lost part of his finger, but because his father is compounding his bad judgment in bringing his child too close to a wild animal by failing to acknowledge responsibility for his own actions.

Polly wants Ryan Williams to get nothing, not even a cracker.

In Detroit, You Have The Right to Remain Stinky

Susan McBride is a Detroit city planner who filed a lawsuit in 2008 against her employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). McBride, who claimed to have a breathing sensitivity to chemical products, complained that the perfume of co-workers made it difficult for her to breathe and do her job.

Although the city initially fought the federal lawsuit on the grounds that this sensitivity didn't render McBride disabled, the parties recently announced a settlement calling for McBride to receive $100,000.

The settlement of the highly publicized lawsuit also called for Detroit officials to post notices in three city buildings (the Cadillac Square Building, the Coleman Young Municipal Center and the First National Building) calling for city workers to avoid wearing certain scented products.

The placards will instruct Detroit employees in those buildings from wearing "colognes, aftershave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions" and to refrain from using "scented candles, perfume samples from magazines, spray or solid air fresheners."

One city employee who's hypersensitive complains, and now no one can wear deodorant? I think there's going to be a lot more complaints facing the city of Detroit.

Thank You For Not Smoking

In an age in which smokers can't indulge in an increasing number of public places such as restaurants, the old saying about your home being your castle probably has special meaning for those needing their nicotine fix. But if one Dallas woman has her way, the privacy of one's home won't be a last refuge for long.

In September 2009, retired nurse Chris Daniel filed a lawsuit seeking six-figure damages from her former landlord, Estancia Townhomes, and a former next door neighbor, Rebecca Williams. Daniel alleges that she and her daughter Cary suffered breathing difficulties and
other physical symptoms because her next door neighbor at Estancia was a smoker.

Daniel has since moved out, but is seeking damages for furniture she claims will need to be reupholstered, clothes that will need to be dry cleaned, and artwork in need of restoration due to the alleged smoke. Daniel maintains that the property had a construction defect that allowed smoke to migrate between units.

But the property owners and managers deny the allegations, and say they did everything within reason for their former tenants. A solid, two-hour fire wall from the foundation to the roof separated each of the homes, and smoker Rebecca Williams moved to a different unit in June – after a judge issued a restraining order preventing her from lighting up in her own home!

Managers at Estancia repeatedly replaced air filters, installed sealant-type electrical plates, and even used industrial-grade roofing sealant to caulk pipes in the Daniels' kitchen.

"We've done more for these people that we've ever done for anyone else. I don't think it's possible to satisfy them," says property director Nicole Lott.

Estancia also points to the fact that Ms. Daniel renewed her lease at the community (where smoking is permitted) six months after she first contended the problems began.

When one person claims that her concerns trump the right of others to do what they want in their own homes, plenty of people will be fuming.

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