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Three of The Craziest Civil Cases In History (And What We Can Learn From Them)

Not all civil suits are created equal. Here are some of the most bizarre we’ve ever seen - and what they can teach you about your own case.

Your civil trial is coming up. You’re probably pretty stressed about the outcome, and agonizing over what might happen whether you win or lose. Chances are, there’s not really a whole lot of humor in the whole situation for you.

Not so with these cases, which have gone down in the annals of history as some of the most bizarre ever brought before a court. Luckily, in addition to being entertaining reads, they can also teach you a thing or two about civil law. Let’s talk about that.

Suing Their Pants Off

The Lawsuit

When Washington judge Roy Pearson brought a pair of $800 pants to a mom-and-pop drycleaner, he requested they only perform a small alteration - $10.50, at best. Allegedly, the shop’s owners, Jin and Soo Chung, misplaced those pants, and tried to give him a cheap, imitation pair of trousers in exchange.

Pearson was outraged, and attempted to sue them for a whopping $67 million. Luckily, a judge ruled in favor of the Chungs. Turns out just because you know the law, doesn’t mean you can use it to bully people.

What This Can Teach Us

Just because you think you have a case, doesn’t mean you do. Roy Pearson was effectively barred from returning to his position as a judge, and ended up having to pay the court fees of the Chung family. You need to be careful if you’re the plaintiff in a civil case - because you could wind up in the same position if your position isn’t ironclad.

No Trespassing

The Lawsuit

In 2013, a federal jury awarded $24.2 million to two men who, while trespassing on railroad property, climbed aboard a railcar where they were summarily electrocuted. Jeffrey Klein and Brett Birdwell in 2002 decided to explore a facility owned by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern without a permit. Their claim that the two companies should have posted signs warning of the voltage of the cars.

The jury agreed.

What This Can Teach Us

Even If a civil case seems cut-and-dry, the results aren’t always set in stone. It seems ridiculous that the two men should be awarded damages for trespassing. At the same time, their case holds water - and their lawyers likely plead it eloquently before the court.

Hot Coffee

The Lawsuit

We’ll leave off with one of the classics. In Alburquerque, New Mexico a 79-year-old woman spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap, and was burned by it. She subsequently sued the company, receiving $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages (later reduced to $480,000). It’s one of the most famous civil cases in history, and resulted in both widespread outrage and intense discussion on the nature of law.

What This Can Teach Us the media can thoroughly distort a case. The woman’s lawsuit was not frivolous, nor was she greedy. She actually went into shock from the pain caused by the spilled coffee, which gave her third degree burns on 6% of her body.

Not only that, she didn’t originally attempt to sue - she contacted McDonald’s, requesting that they pay her hospital bills and check whether their coffee machine was faulty. They rebuffed her. Then and only then, she contacted a lawyer, and an urban legend was born.

Long story short, liability suits are not easy money, and frivolous lawsuits are neither as common nor as successful as you’d expect.

Closing Thoughts

There are plenty of bizarre and absurd lawsuits out there. Yours probably isn’t one of them. But hopefully the stories here have helped put things in perspective - and helped you feel a bit less stressed about your upcoming trial.

Ryan B. Bormaster is the managing attorney at Bormaster Law. The law firm practices in a number of areas but specializes in 18 Wheeler Accidents, Accidents with Commercial Vehicles such as Work Trucks and Catastrophic Injuries of all kinds. They are trial lawyers who will work hard to try to solve your problem out of the Courtroom but who will proudly stand by your side in the Courtroom if justice so requires.

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