Top 10 Unusual Lawsuits

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Frivolous lawsuits waste billions of dollars in civil courts, but they show no signs of slowing down, and every year they seem to get more ridiculous. We’ve all heard about the woman who sued McDonald’s (and won!) after she spilled coffee on herself, or the thief who sued a family after injuring himself while trying to break into their house, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are ten of the most outrageous and unusual lawsuits to ever make their way into a courtroom.

10. Man Sues Michael Jordan For Looking Like Him

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Everybody wants to be like Mike, except for Allen Heckard of Portland, Oregon. In 2006, Heckard sued Michael Jordan and the Nike corporation for over $800 million after alleging that his uncanny resemblance to the NBA superstar had led to defamation, permanent injury, and emotional pain and suffering. “I’m constantly being accused of looking like Michael,” Heckard said at the time, “and it makes it very uncomfortable for me.” Heckard included Nike founder Phil Knight in the case for his role in promoting Jordan’s public persona, saying that he couldn’t go out in public without people mentioning he looked like Jordan. Heckard, who is only six feet tall, said that people at his gym had even accused him of playing basketball like Michael Jordan.

9. Man Sues Budweiser For False Advertising

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In 1991, a man named Richard Overton filed a lawsuit against Anheiser-Busch for false advertising that had led to emotional distress, mental injury, and financial loss. Harris alleged that, unlike the what happens to guys in their ads, when he drank Bud Light the ladies weren’t attracted to him, nor did beautiful women and tropical settings appear out of thin air, as they did in another Budweiser commercial that was airing at the time. To add insult to this grave injury, he also asserted that when he drank beer, he would often wake up hung over. Overton sued for $10,000, but the case was thrown out before ever making it to trial.

8. Man Sues Himself

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In 2006, Curtis Gokey filed a lawsuit against the city of Lodi, California when one of their dump trucks accidentally backed into his car. The problem? Gokey, a city employee, was the guy driving the dump truck. Even though he freely admitted the accident had been his fault, Gokey sued the city for $3,600 in damages. After the city denied the claim and asserted that he couldn’t legally sue himself, Gokey filed a new lawsuit, this time in his wife’s name. A city attorney alleged that this too was illegal, but Gokey’s wife went through with suit anyway, and even raised the damages to $4,800, saying, “I’m not as nice as my husband is.”

7. Surfer Sues Over Stolen Wave

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One thing all surfers hate is when someone “snakes” a wave that they were in a better position to ride. A California man once took this anger to the courts when he supposedly sued another surfer for “stealing a wave” that he believed was meant for him. The man alleged that he had endured “pain and suffering” as a result of not being able to carve up the surf, and attempted to take the wave thief to court. The case was eventually dismissed when the court stated that there was no way to put a price on the pain and suffering of being denied a chance to ride a monster wave.

6. Student Sues For Right To Smelly Feet

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Teunis Tenbrook, a philosophy student at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, sued his school after he was thrown out for having unusually smelly feet. Professors and other students had complained that the smell was overpowering and made it impossible to conduct classes, and Tenbrook was eventually expelled from both the school and its library. He sued, and after a ten-year legal battle, a judge ruled in 2009 that having smelly feet is no excuse to prevent a student from continuing their studies. Upon delivering this verdict, the judge stated: “Our considered opinion is that the professors and other students will just have to hold their noses and bear it.”

5. Russian Astrologer Sues NASA

The Tempel 1 comet is shown after the probe from the Deep Impact spacecraft collided with it early Monday, July 4, 2005.  (AP)

The Tempel 1 comet is shown after the probe from the Deep Impact spacecraft collided with it early Monday, July 4, 2005. (AP)

Marina Bai is a Russian astrologer who sued NASA in July of 2005 for allegedly “disrupting the balance of the universe.” At the time, NASA had just fired the Deep Impact space probe into the comet Tempel 1 in the hope of studying its interior. Bai sued for damages and “moral sufferings,” alleging that the comet and “the natural balance of forces in the universe” would never be the same, and that her astrology business would be adversely affected as a result. Bai’s case was originally thrown out, but was reintroduced after her lawyer was able to show that NASA’s office in the American embassy fell under Russian jurisdiction. She sued for over $300 million, which was roughly the same as the space mission’s total budget, but her case was eventually rejected after a physicist argued that the probe had no real effect on the comet’s trajectory.

4. Man Sues Corporations For Witchcraft

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In 2008, a Canadian man brought a $2 billion lawsuit against several corporations after claiming that the companies had repeatedly dabbled in witchcraft, satanic rituals, and brain wave control in an attempt to bolster profits. The man, named Jerry Rose, alleged that companies like Microsoft and Wal-Mart had subjected him to “invasive brain computer interface technology, research, experiments, field studies and surgery.” Rose also named several universities and professors as defendants in the case, saying that they had helped engineer the “brain-drain” technologies that had made the mind control tactics possible. Lawyers from the companies argued that the case was outrageous and deserved to be dismissed on the spot, but the judge in charge of the proceedings agreed to hear it, arguing that all of the charges were capable of being litigated.

3. The Cable Car Nymphomaniac

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In San Francisco in 1964, a woman named Gloria Sykes was injured after the cable car she was riding on malfunctioned and careened down a hill. Sykes suffered a black eye and some scratches in the accident, but she filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the city for a much more curious reason: she claimed the accident had triggered a “demonic sex urge” in her. Sykes said the trauma from the accident had led to her developing an uncontrollable nymphomania, and that after it happened she’d had sex with over 100 men, as many as 50 in one week. The case made headlines in the Bay Area when it went to court, and many called it one of the most egregious abuses of the legal system in history. But after Sykes’ attorneys successfully argued that she had developed a bizarre form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she was eventually awarded $50,000 in damages.

2. Man Sues God

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In 2005, a Romanian prisoner named Pavel Mircea attempted to sue God for fraud and gross negligence. Mircea, who had spent twenty year behind bars for murder, claimed that God had failed to deliver him from evil, as he had been promised at his christening, and that this was tantamount to a breach of contract. Mircea sued for an undisclosed amount, partially to be reimbursed for money he had spent on prayer candles and other religious goods, and directed his case toward the Officials of the Romanian Orthodox Church, whom he considered to be God’s representatives on Earth. The courts eventually rejected the case, with at least one report claiming that it was thrown out because God is not subject to ordinary law.

1. The World’s Most Litigious Man Sues

Lawsuit against Steve Job (Apple) from Jonathan Lee Riches

Lawsuit against Steve Job (Apple) from Jonathan Lee Riches

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When it comes to filing unusual lawsuits, few compare to Jonathan Lee Riches, who has filed an enormous amount of them in U.S. District Courts. Known variously as “Johnny Sue-Nami,” “the Litigator Crusader,” and “the Patrick Ewing of Suing,” Riches has been known to try and take anyone and anything to court. Targets of his over 4,000 lawsuits have included George W. Bush, the Somali pirates, NASCAR, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Martha Stewart, and Steve Jobs. Riches, who is currently doing time in an Oklahoma City prison, has even attempted to sue historical figures like Plato, Nostradamus, and Che Guevara, as well as inanimate objects like the Eiffel Tower, the Lincoln Memorial, and Plymouth Rock. Arguably his most famous–and certainly his most ironic–lawsuit occurred in May of 2009, when Riches sued the Guinness Book of World Records for naming him “the World’s Most Litigious Man,” claiming that the company had no right to publish his “legal masterpieces.”


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19 Comments

  1. Evan – Great list as always. As I was reading this I thought about how silly and ignorant most, if not all, of these lawsuits were and after the chuckles I felt a little angry. What a waste these lawsuits were on the court system's time and these are only 10. How many thousands are happening every year? Just makes you think.

  2. Skateboard Shoes on

    Wow, the streetcar nympho did 50 guys in one week, I wonder if she was hot or if guys are just that easy?!

  3. Many cases sound silly, until you actually take the time to read the opinions of the judges, to learn about it. For example, can you blame a 79 year old woman who recieved 3rd degree burns to her groin from a cup of coffee from suing McDonalds, especaily considering that they had gotten in trouble before, and they served the coffee a lot hotter than was needed because "this way the coffee would be hot when people got home to drink it" since no one drinks in the car. Also, the jury did find her negligent, but they just found McDonalds more so.

    • I kind of see what you are saying; the coffee' could have been a slightly cooler temperature. But she spilled it. She would not have been burned if she had not caused the spill. It is her fault. Its like suing a knife company for making their knives too sharp and not posting a warning about the sharpness after you slice off your finger. You still cut off your own finger. Doesn't matter that the knife could have been a bit more dull to still do the job and maybe not make it through the bone.

      • Part of what makes me so annoyed about these "frivolous" lawsuits is that the press they recieve isn't accurate. There are standards of evidence, and they are tried by a jury of people who decided to give her the money, not the courts, many lawsuits are dismissed every year for failing to have a valid claim, such as a knife being too sharp. However if the knife had a false claim such as being of some design that it wouldn't cut, or that a child could use it, there is a claim. Also as a coffee drinker I do not expect my coffee to be near the boiling point (it was about 180 degrees I belive), and give me third degree burns, the type that causes permanent nerve damage and scarring, not just something similar to a sunburn, when I drink it. I have spilled coffee on myself that was hot enough to cause a slight burn and it hurt, I can't imagine what it would be like to have to spend weeks in the hospital and have numerous skin grafts to an already sensitive area of my body all because of a cup of coffee, something which is supposed to be drinkable… would you drink water that was boiling. Also the damages were large because they were punitive, meaning they were meant to punish McDonalds, because they had had numerous complaints and lawsuits about the temperature of their coffee and had failed to do anything about it. And guess what, McDonalds coffee is no longer that hot, so it worked.

        • I have to agree with this. The knife analogy doesn’t hold up. The coffee was being sold as safe to put in your mouth, and at that temperature, it’s not. It’s true that you wouldn’t expect to be able to hold a sharpened knife by the blade and not get cut, but in this case, it’s like they handed her a knife where the handle had been sharpened as well as the blade. In the years immediately prior to the “Hot Coffee Lawsuit,” McDonald’s had received over 700 complaints from customer’s who were burned by their coffee. There is a reason that knives are sold with sharpened blades, cutting is their intended use. There is no reason for coffee to be sold at close to boiling temperatures, since it’s intended use is for consumption, and it cannot be safely consumed at that temperature. The fact that McDonald’s was aware of the danger, coupled with the fact that there is no necessary reason for them to serve the coffee at such extreme temperatures caused the case to fit the legal requirements for negligence. The jury also accounted for the plaintiff’s responsibility in the case, finding her to be 20% at fault, and reducing her punitive damages accordingly.

  4. I was told by my instructor for insurance class that a woman in CA sued KY Jelly. She claimed she had been putting it on toast and various foods….she won some big money, and KY was forced to make sure the label was clear about what its uses were.

  5. All of them as stupid as they are could somehow be treated as legitimate except for the dude that sued God.

    hahaha

  6. You should include the story where some woman sues Google due to a traffic accident allegedly caused by directions she downloaded from Google Maps

    The woman got hit by a car while crossing the road without sidewalks and she's sueing Google because they didn't provided a safety disclaimer telling her NOT to cross a road with no sidewalk on it.

    Yeah…

    Well, this story was fairly recent. This list was probably made before this case happened.

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