10 of the Dumbest Lawsuits That Actually Won
People file a lot of lawsuits. As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that dumb-sounding ones win from time to time. Sometimes, this is because those lawsuits weren’t as ridiculous as they sounded. Other times, well, suffice it to say that the legal system isn’t perfect. Of course, some winning lawsuits have been particularly egregious, meaning interested individuals might enjoy hearing about them.
Here are 10 of the dumbest lawsuits that actually won:
10. TV Channel Sued For Wrong Weather Forecast
An Israeli woman sued a TV channel over a wrong weather forecast in 1996. Supposedly, she dressed lightly because she expected sunny rather than stormy weather. The woman blamed her getting drenched for her catching the flu, which caused her to miss out on four days of work. As a result, she wanted $1,000 in compensation plus an apology from the weather forecaster.
The strange thing is that she managed to get both of those things without a fight, presumably because the TV channel figured that was less costly to its interests than meeting her in the courtroom.
Weather Forecasters Wouldn’t Be Able to Work If This Was Standard
Fortunately, the settlement doesn’t seem to have set a precedent. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine weather forecasting being a thing for much longer. For context, SciJinks says the accuracy of weather forecasts is about 90 percent for five days and 80 percent for seven days. After that, weather forecasting becomes much more imprecise, so much so that a 10-day weather forecast is right about half the time.
As such, a TV channel wouldn’t be able to survive very long if it had to pay $1,000 every time someone’s plans were ruined because of a wrong weather forecast. That means it would presumably remove weather forecasts from its programming altogether for survival’s sake.
9. McDonald’s Sued For Burning Hot Coffee
Chances are good that interested individuals have heard about this one. The woman who sued McDonald’s because she spilled her coffee on herself received extensive media coverage. As a result, it became the ur-example of a ridiculous lawsuit in the popular consciousness. That is particularly true because the woman received more than $2.8 million in compensation, which seems egregious on initial consideration.
The Lawsuit Wasn’t As Ridiculous As It Sounded
That said, the lawsuit wasn’t as ridiculous as it sounded. Reader’s Digest and other publications point out the spilled coffee was hot enough to cause second and third-degree burns on more than 16 percent of the woman’s body.
For those unfamiliar, second-degree burns are extremely unpleasant because they damage the inner layer of the skin, thus resulting in pain, blistering, and swelling. Third-degree burns are much worse because they have gone through the skin, meaning they can damage the bones, the muscles, and the tendons. These injuries don’t hurt because the injured have lost the local nerves responsible for sensation.
Even so, the compensation wouldn’t have been so high if the jurors weren’t in a furious mood. It turned out McDonald’s was well aware of the issue because it had received hundreds of complaints in the decade leading to the incident.
Despite that, it continued ordering its employees to brew its coffee that hot. As such, the jurors reduced $200,000 to $160,000 compensation because of the woman’s role in the spill before hitting McDonald’s with $2.7 million in punishment for its indifference.
8. Universal Studios Sued For Frightening Halloween Visitor
It seems reasonable to say that people visit theme parks on Halloween expecting attempts to frighten them. As a result, it seems ridiculous for someone to sue a theme park for succeeding in that regard.
Still, that happened when a grandmother brought her grandchild to Universal Studios Florida on Halloween 1998. We don’t know what she received in compensation for her suffering. However, we know she received something because Universal Studios chose to settle, presumably because the lawsuit going to court would have been the more expensive course of action for the company.
To Be Fair, There Was a Puddle Where Puddles Weren’t Supposed to Be
Of course, it should be mentioned that the grandmother was compensated for not just her emotional distress but also her physical injuries. That is because she slipped on a puddle in a place puddles weren’t supposed to be after she and her grandchild had been spooked into running away by a man in a chainsaw murderer getup.
Due to that, the grandmother took a hard tumble, which can be surprisingly dangerous even for people in the best of health. This is another example of a ridiculous lawsuit that isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds when stripped of context.
7. Popcorn Maker and Grocery Store Sued Over Popcorn Lung
In 2012, Wayne Watson won a lawsuit against a popcorn maker and a grocery store chain because he developed health issues after eating two daily bags of popcorn for ten years. Some people might wonder whether he sued because he became overweight. If so, they should know he sued because he developed a condition called popcorn lung that cost him a sizable portion of his lung capacity. Something that had horrible consequences for his day-to-day life for obvious reasons.
Popcorn Lung Isn’t As Amusing As It Sounds
Popcorn lung sounds amusing. Unfortunately, the American Lung Association says it is a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs caused by exposure to a chemical called diacetyl.
People called it popcorn lung because it showed up in a popcorn maker’s employees, who came into prolonged contact with diacetyl because of the chemical’s use for giving foods a buttery flavor. Nowadays, health organizations are concerned that popcorn lung will become a widespread problem in people who vape because of flavored e-liquids.
6. City of Duluth Sued Over a Fountain of Bubbles
Around the turn of the millennium, someone dumped dish soap into Duluth’s Fountain of Wind. The result was an enormous mass of bubbles, which was interesting enough for Kathy Kelly to walk through it. Unfortunately for everyone other than the prankster, she slipped and fell before suing the city for compensation. The jurors proved sympathetic enough to award her 70 percent compensation, which translated to $125,000.
Sadly, She Had Diabetes
Kelly’s diabetes worsened the situation. That is because she developed gangrene, which is when tissues die because of a lack of blood flow. Diabetics have much higher chances of experiencing this issue than their non-diabetic counterparts.
Partly, that is because they often lose sensation in parts of their body, thus making it harder for them to detect injuries. However, it should also be mentioned that they often have poor circulation, thus increasing the chances of infection because of reduced blood flow. It is possible that Kelly wouldn’t have suffered as much if she wasn’t diabetic.
5. U.K. Government Sued Over Definition of Cake
Jaffa Cakes are a popular British snack. Despite the name, they straddle the line between cake and biscuit. At one point, the formal classification of Jaffa Cakes was argued before a tribunal in the United Kingdom.
Their maker McVities defended their classification as cakes, going as far as to make a giant Jaffa Cake to support its claims. In the end, the company scored more points than it had points scored on it. The Edinburgh News reports the tribunal decided that Jaffa Cakes could be considered cakes even though they had characteristics of cakes and biscuits.
The Status of Food Items Can Be Surprisingly Consequential
The tribunal was about much more than just public entertainment. For those curious, the United Kingdom charges VAT on chocolate-covered biscuits but not on chocolate-covered cakes. As a result, the classification of Jaffa Cakes had major consequences for their profitability, thus explaining why McVities put so much effort into the matter.
4. Railroad Company Sued By Injured Trespassers
Generally speaking, people are less than thrilled by the thought that property owners can become liable for the injuries of trespassers. As a result, there was a fair amount of disgruntlement when two men received $24.2 million because they were electrocuted while trespassing on railroad property when they were still teenagers.
One of them was injured when he came into contact with an electrical wire hanging overhead, while the other was injured when he tried to help his friend. They argued that the railroad companies should have had warning signs about the presence of the electrical wires, which the jurors seemed to have found persuasive.
Electrocution Is No Joke
The case is an excellent reminder of why the CDC and other organizations so often warn people about the dangers of coming into contact with electricity. It interferes with the normal function of the human body. Thanks to that, people who come into contact with a source of electricity often can’t get away on their own because their muscles aren’t responding like normal.
Under normal circumstances, bystanders are supposed to shut off electricity before offering assistance because it can pass from one person to another. That wasn’t possible in this case, which is why one plaintiff suffered burns to more than 75 percent of his body while the other suffered burns to more than 18 percent of his body.
3. Subway Sued Over Sandwich Length
Viral content can cause considerable damage to a company’s reputation. For example, people sued Subway over the length of its sandwiches when an Australian teenager posted a photo showing that his footlong sandwich was 11 inches rather than 12 inches long.
In truth, the length was meaningless. The bread is shipped to each store in its unbaked form. Furthermore, meat and cheese are standardized, while other ingredients are freely available.
As a result, each sandwich contained the same amount of food regardless of its exact length. Despite this, the lawsuit ended in a settlement. The funny thing is that it was effectively meaningless because it required Subway to take steps to ensure the minimum sandwich lengths it had already taken to stem its reputational bleeding.
Like the Sandwiches, Victory Was Shorter Than Expected
Reuters reported that a court of appeals tossed the settlement out because of its worthlessness. Specifically, the presiding judge was less than pleased that the settlement only offered meaningful benefits for the plaintiffs’ lawyers but not the plaintiffs. In response, she rejected it because she didn’t see it as any better than racketeering.
2. Red Bull Sued Because Beverages Aren’t As Energizing As Advertised
Subway is far from being the only food and beverage company to run into issues because its product didn’t live up to customer expectations. In 2014, Red Bull agreed to settle a class action lawsuit by paying out up to $13 million. The whole thing started because a customer thought its energy drinks weren’t as energizing as its advertising claimed.
Supposedly Settled Because of Uncertainty
Of course, Red Bull admitted no fault with its advertising. Instead, it said it settled because it didn’t want to go through the uncertainty of fighting things out in the courtroom. Amusingly, the cap on compensation meant that recipients benefited when fewer people responded to Red Bull’s offer because that meant a higher individual payout.
1. Beck’s Brewery Sued Because the Beer Isn’t German-Made
Beck’s Brewery offered a $20 million settlement to buy off a class action lawsuit over misleading advertising. Essentially, it started making its U.S. product in the United States rather than in Germany in 2012. That piece of information was included on the product packaging. The issue was that it was so minimal that it was easily missed, meaning people could be fooled into buying while still under the belief it was brewed in Germany.
Place of Origin Can Matter a Great Deal For Consumer Products
The lawsuit was a great reminder that people care a lot about where their products are made. Fairly or unfairly, American beer doesn’t have the best reputation with a wide range of consumers. The people behind Beck’s Brewery were aware of this, which is why they minimized their U.S. product’s place of origin. However, the Chicago Tribune points out the whole thing backfired on them when consumers found out anyway.