James Fuqua's Law Jokes

Dumb Lawsuits

Cigar Insurance -- Added 31 October 1998
Contraceptive Jelly -- Added 4 September 1997
God, Plaintiff v. President Ronald Reagan (Cite as: 1986 WL 3948 (E.D.Pa.) -- Added 4 February 1999
Pepsi Challenge -- Added 11 May 1997
Save the Lawyers -- Added 8 September 1997

Shorter Examples -- Updated 8 September 1997

Cigar Insurance -- Supposedly True

A Charlotte, North Carolina man, having purchased a box of 24 rare and very expensive cigars, insured them against... fire. Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of fabulous cigars, and having yet to make a single premium payment on the policy, the man filed a claim against the insurance company.

In his claim, the man stated that he had lost the cigars in "a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in a normal fashion. The man sued, and won.

In delivering his ruling, the judge stated that the man held a policy from the company in which it was warranted that the cigars were insurable. The company, in the policy, had also guaranteed that it would insure the cigars against fire, without defining what it considered to be "unacceptable fire," and so, the company was obligated to compensate the insured for his loss. Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the judge's ruling and paid the man $15,000 for the rare cigars he had lost in "the fires."

However, shortly after the man cashed his check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of arson. With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case used as evidence against him, the man was convicted of intentionally burning the rare cigars and sentenced to 24 consecutive one-year prison terms.

Contraceptive Jelly

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - A woman is suing the pharmacy that sold her a popular contraceptive jelly - because she ate the stuff on toast and got pregnant anyway.

And, incredibly, many legal experts are saying she's got an excellent chance of collecting!

"The woman is a complete idiot," said one attorney who asked that we not use his name. "How bright can you be if you think eating a vaginal gel will prevent conception?

"But certain aspects of the case involve truth in labeling and false advertising issues. She may not collect but she'll make a lot of noise and trouble. People are down on lawyers anyway. They think we waste time and money on frivolous lawsuits. This isn't going to help our public relations any."

A spokesman for the unnamed mom-and-pop drugstore says he's shocked and angry that such a case could ever be taken seriously. "All she has to do is open the box and read the directions," says the spokesman. "Next thing you know someone will come after us because they couldn't stick things together with their toothpaste.

"I can just imagine some moron saying: 'It's paste, isn't it? Why can't I glue these papers onto my bulletin board?' "

But attorneys for Mrs. Chyton say she was swindled and lied to by implication and they intend to make the pharmacy pay $500,000 for the hardship the woman will have to endure.

"It says right on it 'jelly,'" says Mrs. Chyton, a former model who was once a cheerleader for a popular professional basketball team.

"And they kept it on the shelf just two aisles from the food section. I know, now, that the directions say it should be used vaginally with a condom.

"But who has time to sit around reading directions these days - especially when you're sexually aroused?

"The company should call it something else and the pharmacy shouldn't sell it without telling each and every customer who buys it that eating it won't prevent you from getting pregnant."

As bizarre as it sounds, the pharmacy could wind up losing the lawsuit. "It's hard for businesses to avoid troublesome lawsuits," said another attorney.

"With the courts bending over backwards to please consumer groups, the temper of the times is perfect for these crackpots to bring legal action against businesses - even a moronic legal action like this."

God, Plaintiff v. President Ronald Reagan (Cite as: 1986 WL 3948 (E.D.Pa.)

FULLAM, District Judge
[After granting plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis]

"Plaintiff names as defendants President and Mrs. Reagan, the United States Government, Congress, and the citizens of the United States and foreign countries. Her complaint is lengthy, rambling, and at times incomprehensible. It seems that plaintiff's basic claims are that she is god of the Universe and that citizens of the Universe, former Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, and President Reagan have perpetrated crimes against her through the use of an electronic eavesdropping device. The majority of her complaint is composed of a request for relief in which she asks that the court award her items ranging from a size sixteen mink coat and diamond jewelry to a three bedroom home in the suburbs and a catered party at the Spectrum in Philadelphia."

She didn't win.

Pepsi Challenge

John Leonard is taking his Pepsi challenge to court. The 21-year old business student says he's collected his Pepsi points and wants his prize - A Harrier fighter jet like the one pictured in a pepsi promotional TV ad. On Tuesday, his Miami lawyers filed a lawsuit in Dade County, Fla., Circuit Court, accusing PepsiCo Inc. of breach of contract, fraud, deceptive and unfair trade practices, and misleading advertising. Pepsi maintains the commercial was a spoof and says it has a perfect right to use humor in its advertising.

Leonard, a student at Shoreline Community College, saw a television ad last year as part of a Pepsi Stuff promotion in which customers who had racked up points on beverage containers could claim prizes. As a joke, the company also "offered" the $70 million fighter jet for 7 million points. That means Leonard would have had to drink 16,800,000 cans of Pepsi to earn the Harrier.

To avoid having to drink that much Pepsi, Leonard called the company and said he was told he had the option of buying Pepsi points for 10 cents each. Leonard rounded up five investors and on March 28 delivered to Pepsi 15 original Pepsi Points plus a check for $700,008.50 for the remaining 6,999,985 points, "plus shipping and handling," the lawsuit says.

After Leonard threatened to sue because he didn't get the jet, the company filed a pre-emptive suit July 18 in federal court in New York, seeking to have his claims declared frivolous and seeking reimbursement for the company's legal fees.

Leonard denies his actions are a publicity stunt or an attempt to get Pepsi to settle out of court. He saw a plane as an entrepreneurial venture, saying perhaps he could take customers on thrill rides.

Save the Lawyers

From the "Around New York" column of the New York Times, April 3, 1991:

Court Says Legal Aid Lawyers Had Right To Wear Buttons

A state appeals court ruled yesterday that Legal Aid Society lawyers had a constitutional right to wear "Ready to Strike" buttons in October, when they argued their cases in court.

The lawyers were wearing the buttons to signify their support of a threatened strike. But Justice George Roberts of State Supreme Court ordered them to remove their buttons in his Manhattan courtroom on the ground they could prejudice the court and upset their clients.

The Apellate division of the State Supreme Court said "the mere act of wearing a button" was protected by the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

Justice Richard W. Wallach pointed out in a concurring opinion that Justice Roberts had said he would have allowed non-political buttons such as those that said "Save the Whales". But Justice Wallach issued a caution to all lawyers, "If the choice had to be made between saving the lives of lawyers or saving whales, there is little doubt that the overwhelming majority of Americans would come down on the side of the whales."

Shorter Examples

Matthew P. Dukes, 26, sentenced to 30 days in jail in 1989 following his sixth drunken-driving conviction, tried for 15 months (through December 1990) to get into jail in Ravenna, Ohio, but each time was turned away because the jail was full. In December, Dukes filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that his constitutional rights are being violated by the jail's refusal to admit him.

Rachel Barton-Russell petitioned a court in Springfield, Ore., in February 1994 for a ruling on the meaning of the state's law against corpse abuse. Her deceased husband, Donal Eugene Russell, had declared in his will that he wanted his skin used to make book covers for a collection of his poetry, but the state Mortuary and Cemetery Board claims that carrying out that request would subject a funeral home to liability for corpse abuse.

From the Chicago Tribune, 6/8/90:

Naples, Italy(AP): ...the claim (for damages) involves an accident in March involving a medium-sized Regatta and a tiny Panda car. The young man claimed he and his girlfriend were engaged in amorous activity in their car when the large car hit it from behind. The impact momentarily made them lose control, resulting in pregnancy. The suit demands compensation for the cost of repairing the Panda and the cost of the wedding the couple decided to have after discovering the woman was pregnant.

According to Department of Justice figures, 30,000 inmate lawsuits were filed last year (added to heavy backlogs, more than 28,000 inmate lawsuits in New York alone) against prison officials for "civil rights" violations, the vast majority described by judges and court officials as frivolous.

Among the lawsuits were those prisoners complaining that the prison canteen supplied "creamy" peanut butter when a prisoner bought "crunchy", that guards wouldn't refrigerate his ice cream snack so that he could eat it later ($1 million lawsuit), that his toilet seat was too cold, that, as an inmate-paralegal in the prison law library, he should make the same wage that lawyers make, that prisons should offer salad bars ($129 million), that a limit on the number of Kool-Aid refills is "cruel and unusual punishment", and that the scrambled eggs were cooked too hard.

In New York, 20 percent of the entire budget of the Attorney General's office is spent on prisoner lawsuits.

In May 1994, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision dismissing Richard Overton's $10,000 1991 lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch for false advertising. In the lawsuit, Overton had said he suffered physical and mental injury and emotional distress because the implicit promises in the company's advertisements, especially of success with women, did not materialize for him when he drank its product. Besides that, Overton contended, he sometimes got sick when he drank.

Ex-student Jason Wilkins sued the University of Idaho in July of 1994 for $940,000 to pay for injuries he suffered when he fell through a third story window while mooning students. Wilkins had climbed onto a three-foot-high heater to reach the window but claimed the university should have posted warnings.

Some trues examples of frivolous lawsuits in Texas:

A woman sued a man because he swore at her in traffic. He offered to meet her and apologize, but she refused and filed suit for $5,000. She won $2,500 at the trial court level, but the decision was reversed on appeal because she failed to prove her distress was more than what a reasonable person could endure.

A man in Fort Worth filed a lawsuit against Elvis Presley Enterprises, contending that the King faked his death and ran off to live a normal life. He says he knows for certain that Elvis is alive because he has had frequent telephone calls from him.

A South Texas man borrowed his neighbor's lawn mower. While mowing his own yard, he fell and pulled the lawn mower over his own foot. He sued his neighbor for $235,000. The jury awarded him nothing.

An inmate sued the county jail because he claimed there was an abundance of feathers near his cell and he was allergic to feathers, which caused his asthma to act up. The assistant district attorney commented, "A jailbird should never be complaining about feathers." The inmate then sued the newspaper that reported the comment, claiming the guards made fun of him after they read it.

A federal magistrate ruled that the Alabama prison policy of allowing female guards to oversee showers by male prisoners is not "cruel and unusual punishment" for the men but a reasonably policy for security and equal employment opportunities for female guards.

The October 8, 1990 issue of Fortune has picked up on a small story which appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

As best as I remember, there was a lawyer who got caught three times in an alleged speed trap. He sued the city under RICO (Racketeering Influence and Corruption) statutes. Part of the allegation is that the city set the speed limit without reviewing the traffic patterns every 5 years.

A judge ruled that the city could be sued under RICO.

I doubt that this is what they had in mind when Congress passed the RICO statutes.

Forbes magazine recently reported an incident whereby a man attempted to kill himself by jumping in front of a subway car in New York; however, having failed, he won a $650,000 judgement from New York City because the train hit him.

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