The Stella Awards – funny but bogus

Below is an item that appeared recently in various Humor lists. It did not appear credible to me, so I wrote to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America for their comments on its veracity. Their comments (including a little propaganda for their side) follow the summary of the Stella Awards below. We may have some goofy legal decisions in America, but the ones below appear to be bogus.

Origin of the Stella Awards:

In 1994, a New Mexico jury awarded $2.9 million U.S. in damages to 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who suffered third-degree burns to her legs, groin and buttocks after spilling a cup of McDonalds coffee on herself.

This case inspired an annual award – The Stella Award – for the most frivolous lawsuit in the U.S. The ones listed below are clear candidates.

January 2000: Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas was awarded $780,000 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 little rodent was Ms. Robertsons son.

June 1998: 19 year old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didnt notice there was someone at the wheel of the car, when he was trying to steal his neighbors hubcaps.

October 1998: Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania was leaving a house he had just 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 couldnt re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation. 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. Mr. Dickson sued the homeowners insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of half a million dollars.

October 1999: Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbors beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owners fenced-in yard, as was Mr. Williams. The award was less than sought 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.

May 2000: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on 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.

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 and dental expenses.

And just so you know that cooler heads do occasionally prevail: Kenmore Inc., the makers of Dorothy Johnsons microwave, were found not liable for the death of Mrs. Johnsons poodle after she gave it a bath and attempted to dry it by putting the poor creature in her microwave for, just a few minutes, on low, The case was quickly dismissed.

Reply from Association of Trial Lawyers of America

You are, of course, right to be skeptical. These reputed cases simply do not exist. Searches for articles and litigation matching these stories cannot be found. The first tip-off to the fact that they are phony is that no case citations are included. And these are only a few of the phony cases circulating around the internet for many months.

One analysis of this phony e-mail mentioned that, Some versions bear the following footer, although many omit it:


Mary R. Hogelmen, Esq.

Law Offices of Hogelmen, Hogelmen, and Thomas

Dayton Ohio

There is no law firm of Hogelmen, Hogelmen, and Thomas in Dayton, Ohio, as a call to directory assistance quickly confirmed. This detail was included to give the mailing credibility in the eyes of those who received it – if a law firm had pulled this list together to build grassroots support for its tort reform program, then it went without saying a pack of lawyers had properly researched each item and were guaranteeing the information provided. But of course this detail was as false as everything else in the e-mail.

Whenever you are sent anything like this, you should ask the purveyor for more details, especially the case names or citations. I assure you that, in most cases, those details cannot and will not be provided, because they do not exist. Even some real cases that seem frivolous at first glance may not be, or if the facts presented have any basis in truth, they have been dismissed or crucial facts have been omitted from the story-telling.

Thank you for your skepticism and for your understanding that there are people and corporations that want to make Americans distrustful of citizen juries (thats you, me, our neighbors, friends, and co-workers) and a legal system that, in spite of its imperfections, is the bedrock of our democracy and the envy of people in every other nation in the world. Our civil justice system has multiple safeguards to help assure that justice is achieved, as it is in most instances.

Carlton Carl

Director of Media Relations

Association of Trial Lawyers of America

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