Strange American Lawsuits: Part 1

Given the conservative nature of the Canadian approach to litigation, we are always fascinated by some of the cases we see coming out of the U.S.A. The classic in terms of bizarre results, for most people, is probably the case of the woman who sued McDonald’s for serving overly hot coffee. The woman burnt herself after she spilled the coffee and a jury felt that this was worth $7 million dollars or so. An appeal court later reduced the award, but left it at what most Canadians would consider to be an absurd amount.

The whole idea of lawsuits of this nature is probably related to a significant degree to three prevailing factors that set American cases apart from ours.

Firstly, a far greater percentage of U.S. cases proceed on the basis of contingency fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers than in Canada. Secondly, far more cases in the U.S. proceed before juries. In Canada, juries are rarely involved in business disputes, for example. Thirdly, in most American jurisdictions parties are left to bear their own costs regardless of the result. There is very little in the way of a “loser pays” system as we have in Canada.

Some of the cases that arise are truly bizarre.

For example, it appears that an Illinois resident and long-time fan of the Chicago Bulls has filed a law suit against Bulls star player Derrick Rose. After tearing his ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Rose was cleared by team doctors to play but took the position that he was not mentally ready to do so.

As a result, one Matthew Thompson claimed that Rose’s extended absence from the team resulted in Thompson suffering multiple mental breakdowns and mental distress. Apparently, Thompson grew obese over the course of the NBA season and claimed that the weight gain resulted from these breakdowns and distress. He alleged that these breakdowns and distress, and his weight gain, were linked directly to what he alleged to be Rose’s “negligent behaviour”.

I have no idea if this law suit will ever get anywhere but if it does, I wonder whether or not a class action on behalf of Toronto Maple Leafs fans against the team’s players and management might have been worth considering (at least, before this past season). Talk about mental distress…

On a less amusing note, in Helena, Montana, a judge has ordered the Fort Harrison VA Medical Centre to pay about $60,000.00 to a local resident wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer.

The court ruled that Dr. Patrick Morrow was negligent in delivering that diagnosis to his patient, the plaintiff Mark Templin, in 2009 causing tremendous distress to Templin and his family.

In the months after the diagnosis was given, Templin quit his job, sold his vehicle, celebrated a “last” birthday, bought a pre-arranged funeral service and contemplated suicide. His son-in-law built a box for his ashes.

The court determined that Templin lived for 148 days under the mistaken impression that he was dying of brain cancer. After that period of time, as he began to feel better, he underwent additional testing that determined that rather than terminal brain cancer, he had instead suffered several small strokes. He was awarded a fixed amount per day as well as reimbursement for the costs of his birthday party and funeral.

In the town of Keene, New Hampshire (population 23,000), the city is suing a 6-person group which calls itself “Robin Hood and His Merry Men” for harassing the City’s three parking enforcement officers and causing them so much anxiety and distress that they’ve considered leaving their jobs. This is a group that refills expired parking meters for strangers. It searches downtown Keene for cars in danger of being ticketed and then refills the meter and leaves a note reading “Your meter expired; however we saved you from the King’s tariffs, Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Please consider paying it forward.” The note includes an address where people can send donations for the effort.

The city is asking the court to establish a “safety zone” blocking the group members from coming within fifty feet of the parking enforcement officers. The city alleges that the group has intentionally taunted and harassed the officers by closely following them on foot and by car in groups of varying numbers, often with video camera equipment. One officer claims that the group followed her, crowded around her, video taped her activities, deposited coins in expired meters to prevent her from writing tickets, and repeatedly taunted her by asking why she was stealing people’s money. Another officer complains of being bumped into and taunted, including the use of profanities.

The group claims to have prevented thousands of tickets from being issued. Presumably, the city is not pleased about the obvious loss of revenues.

Finally, a woman in Iowa is suing a hospital for refusing to hire her due to excessive shyness. The issue, however, is not her personality but her bladder.

The plaintiff claims that after she interviewed for a job at the Iowa Methodist Medical Centre, she received an offer contingent on her passing a drug test.

She claims to have been unable to complete the test because she suffers from parueresis, also known as “shy bladder syndrome”. This prevents her from urinating in public restrooms or anywhere in the vicinity of other people. She did offer to undergo a blood based drug test but the hospital refused to conduct one. After losing out on the job she sued the hospital for allegedly violating the Americans Disability Act.

Would anyone care for some excessively hot coffee?

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