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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Common sense absent in these jury awards

By BROOKS TAYLOR | Apr 22, 2016

We all need humor in our lives, it is said.

Doing my part to put a smile on someone’s face, following are the annual Stella Awards for 2015.

The Stella Awards are named after Stella Liebeck and include the most frivolous abuse of the American Justice System.

You have probably heard about Stella, but if you haven’t, here is a synopsis of her story. She was riding with her grandson one morning to a McDonald’s for her morning coffee. Her grandson pulled over to stop so Stella could add cream and sugar to her coffee.

She pulled the lid from her scalding cup of coffee. The coffee spilled, scalding from six to 16 percent of her body. The exact amount differs, depending on whom you talk to.

Two years of treatment, including skin grafts, were required following her accident. McDonald’s refused an offer to settle with her for $20,000 in medical costs.

McDonald’s quality control managers specified that its coffee should be served at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. Liquids at that temperature can cause third-degree burns in two to seven seconds. From 1892 to 1992, McDonald’s coffee burned more than 700 people, usually slightly but sometimes seriously, resulting in a number of other claims and lawsuits.

Witnesses for McDonald’s admitted in court that consumers are unaware of the extent of the risk of serious burns from spilled coffee served at McDonald’s required temperature, admitted that it did not warn customers of the risk, could offer no explanation as to why it did not, and testified that it did not intend to turn down the heat even though it admitted that its coffee is “not fit for consumption” when sold because it was too hot.

Stella initially was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, but the amount was reduced by 20 percent because the jury found her 20 percent at fault.

The court of public opinion also issued its verdict: Stella became an American icon — rightly or wrongly, she is a symbol of the legal system gone wrong. For more than a dozen years, the term “Stella Award” has been used to refer to any lawsuit that sounds outrageous. Stella died in 2004 at 91 years of age.

Following are the Stella Award “winners” in 2015.

Honorable mention: Kathleen Robertson, of Austin, Texas, was awarded $80,000 by a jury after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.

Honorable mention: Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, Calif., won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn’t notice the driver of the vehicle when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.

Fifth place: Terrence Dickson, of Bristol, Pa., was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse yet, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.

Forced to sit for eight days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company claiming mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish.

Fourth place: Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Ark., was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor’s beagle — even though the beagle was on a chain in the owner’s fenced-in yard.

Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the bite because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

Third place: Amber Carson, of Lancaster, Pa., won a $113,500 award from a Philadelphia restaurant after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor was because she had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

Second place: Kara Walton, of Claymont, Del., sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from a bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000…plus dental expenses.

First place: Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City, Okla., was a hands-down winner because this stuff can’t be made up. Grazinski purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home from a University of Oklahoma football game, driving on the interstate, she set the cruise control at 70 miles-per-hour and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich.

Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also, not surprisingly, Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set.

An Oklahoma jury awarded her $1.75 million plus a new motor home. Winnebago also changed its manuals as a result of the lawsuit, just in case Grazinski had any relatives who might also buy a motor home.

Just maybe this column won’t deliver the intended humor, but proof that common sense is lacking in the legal system.

 

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