A list of outrageous lawsuits would be incomplete without the case of Stella Liebeck, an Albuquerque, N.M., woman who spilled a cup of McDonald's coffee on her lap while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car. As a result, the 79-year-old suffered third degree burns on her groin, inner thighs and buttocks and spent seven days in the hospital. When she contacted McDonald's about compensating her for the medical bills, the restaurant chain took her to court. After a weeklong trial, the jury awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages, which a court later reduced to $480,000. Both parties appealed, and they eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
While the ruling provoked outrage among many Americans, others saw her as a victim. The 2011 documentary "Hot Coffee" promotes the latter viewpoint, noting the alleged indifference McDonald's executives displayed to the fact that their coffee caused burns, as well as the public's misconceptions that emerged from the proceedings -- namely, the belief that Liebeck was driving and the car was moving.
Love the verdict or hate it, there's little question that Liebeck's lawsuit resulted in one of the most famous cases of recent decades. It became the butt of many jokes for late-night comedians and was even parodied in a 1995 episode of the popular television show "Seinfeld." The case also inspired the creation of the Stella Awards, which highlight particularly "wild, outrageous, or ridiculous lawsuits."
- Associated Press. "Inmate Sues Himself for $5 Million." Deseret News. April 9, 1995. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.deseretnews.com/article/414175/INMATE-SUES-HIMSELF-FOR-5-MILLION.html
- Associated Press. "Jobless Graduate Sues Her College for $70,000." MSNBC. Aug. 3, 2009. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32265981/ns/us_news-weird_news/t/jobless-graduate-sues-her-college/#.TwFWWa5oWRp
- Avila, Jim. "The $67 Million Pants." ABC News. May 2, 2007. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/LegalCenter/story?id=3119381&page=1#.TwFOPK5oWRp
- Bureau of Justice Statistics. "FAQs: Courts." Jan. 2, 2012. (Jan. 2, 2012) http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=qatp&tid=2
- CNN Justice. "Judge Tosses $54 Million Suit over Missing Pants." June 25, 2007. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://articles.cnn.com/2007-06-25/justice/trouser.trial_1_custom-cleaners-soo-chung-court-judge-judith-bartnoff?_s=PM:LAW
- De Vries, Lloyd. "Get an Earring, Join the Lawsuit." CBS News. May 7, 2009. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/07/19/opinion/garver/main1817811.shtml
- Draper, Electa. "Cookie Klatch Lands Girls in Court." Denver Post. May 4, 2006. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://www.denverpost.com/ci_3347961?IADID=Search-www.denverpost.com-www.denverpost.com
- Fisher, Marc. "First, Pants Man Loses Case. Next, His Job." The Washington Post. Aug. 2, 2007. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://blog.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/2007/08/first_pants_man_loses_case_nex.html
- Francescani, Chris. "Tearful Testimony in $54 Million Pants Lawsuit." ABC News. June 13, 2007. (December 26, 2011) http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/tearful-testimony-54-million-pants-lawsuit/story?id=3269485#.TwFOP65oWRp
- Gerlin, Andrea. "How Hot Do You Like It?" The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 1, 1994.
- Good Morning America. "Teens Sued for Cookie Delivery to Neighbor." Feb. 5, 2004. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=473840&page=1#.TwFOC65oWRp
- Harvard Law School. "Analysis of the Legal Profession and Law Firms." 2010. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/plp/pages/statistics.php
- Kelley, Janet. "$24M Verdict Upheld in Railroad Burn Case." Lancaster Online. April 2, 2008. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/219163_-24M-verdict-upheld-in-railroad-burn-case.html
- Kessler, Jason. "Alumna Sues College Because She Hasn't Found a Job." CNN U.S. Aug. 3, 2009. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://articles.cnn.com/2009-08-03/us/new.york.jobless.graduate_1_job-search-job-placement-filed?_s=PM:US
- Knowles, David."Finger-in-chili Woman Banned From Wendy's." AoLNews. March 11, 2010. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://www.aolnews.com/2010/03/11/finger-in-chili-woman-banned-from-wendys/
- La Ganga, Maria L. and Ann M. Simmons. "Accuser Held in Report of Finger in Chili." Los Angeles Times. April 23, 2005. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://articles.latimes.com/2005/apr/23/local/me-finger23
- Langton, Lynn and Thomas H. Cohen. "Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 2005." Bureau of Justice Statistics. October 2008. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/cbjtsc05.txt
- McEntegart, Pete. "The 10 Spot." SI.com. Aug. 3, 2006. (Dec. 18, 2011) http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/pete_mcentegart/08/03/ten.spot/index.html
- MSNBC. "That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles." Feb. 4, 2005. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6914824/ns/us_news-weird_news/t/thats-way-cookie-crumbles/#.TwFXzq5oWRp
- Ng, Christina. "South Carolina Woman Sues Bar for Paralyzing Car Accident." ABC News. Dec. 31, 2011. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/US/south-carolina-woman-sues-bar-paralyzing-car-accident/story?id=15261379#.TwE0Dq5oWRo
- Orlando Sentinel. "Prisoner Sues Himself but Neither Side Wins Suit." April 10, 1995. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1995-04-10/news/9504090317_1_brock-prisoner-breaking-and-entering
- Peterson, Kyle. "SC Woman Sues Bar after Car Crash." Rock Hill Herald. Dec. 26, 2011. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.heraldonline.com/2011/12/26/3623106/sc-woman-sues-bar-over-car-crash.html
- Schwartz, John. "Documentary Gives Hot Issue Caffeinated Jolt." The New York Times. June 24, 2011. (Dec. 26, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/arts/television/hbo-to-show-hot-coffee-susan-saladoffs-first-film.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
- Tribune News Services. "Air Lawsuit? Man Sues Because He Looks Like Jordan." Chicago Tribune. July 8, 2006. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-07-08/sports/0607080099_1_nike-founder-phil-knight-earring-michael-jordan-and-nike
Do you know how to find out if the court has a warrant out for your arrest? HowStuffWorks explains all you need to know if you have a warrant.