We’ve all heard of frivolous law suits. It’s a legal term that defines a suit as one without any legal merit. In some cases, such an action might be brought in bad faith for the purpose of harrassing the defendant.
Judges are reluctant to call a lawsuit frivolous, except in very rare circumstances. Defining too many cases this way would potentially dissuade people to exercise their legal rights and seek damages when they believe they have been victimized. Many cases that seem frivolous end up going some distance through the legal system before dismissal to make sure judges aren’t missing something, and in honoring due process. But here are a few examples of cases that, in reading their descriptions, seem as facetious as they are audacious. All these cases, except for the last and possibly most famous, were eventually dismissed or dropped.
The agony of defeat
In 1991, a Michigan man, Richard Overton, filed suit against Anheuser-Busch for false and misleading advertising under Michigan state law. He referenced ads that depicted a fantasy come true for two beer delivery drivers who dreamt about beautiful models in the tropics. Though they came to life for the actors in the ad, they failed to appear to Overton. He claimed that he was led to believe that they would appear if he drank the product. Because he suffered mental injury and emotional distress, not to mention financial loss of over $10,000 because of these misleading ads, he filed suit against the giant beer company. The court decided to dismiss all his claims, but his immortality persists on the Internet because of this case.
Someone’s got to take the fall… oh wait, he already did:
It might seem foolish to try to sue oneself, but to Robert Lee Brock, this seemed like a worthy possibility, especially when someone else would have to pay. He filed suit against himself, claiming that he had violated his own civil rights and religious beliefs in allowing himself to get drunk and break the law. His crimes landed him in jail, and thus prevented him from being able to work and provide an income. So, he expected the state to pay. A bit circular in reasoning perhaps, but worth a shot, he thought. The case was thrown out.
May I have your autograph?
Some people want to look like celebrities, but not if you’re Allen Heckard. He filed suit against Michael Jordan, and Nike founder Phil Knight for the tidy sum of $832 million. That was comparable to the price of frequently being mistaken for the basketball star, and would cover Heckard’s emotional pain and suffering, defamation, and permanent injury he claimed he incurred because of his lookalike status. Though it did indeed make some headlines, Heckard eventually decided to drop the suit.
No, there are actually at least two Batmans in the world
“There is only one Batman in the world,” Huseyin Kalkan said, in threats of a lawsuit against Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. Kalkan was the mayor of an oil-producing city in southeastern Turkey, which has the same name as the Caped Crusader. Kalkan threatened to sue for royalties from the mega-grossing film “The Dark Knight” in his claims that the producers used the city’s name without permission.
No one from the town of Batman has explained why it took so many years to take legal action, since Batman first appeared – in the guise of a comic book character – in 1939.
And perhaps the most famous case of all…
A 79-year old woman sued McDonalds in February 1992, claiming that their coffee was so hot that when it spilled in her lap, she incurred third-degree burns. This is a case that comes to many minds as a perfect example of a frivolous law suit. However, there is more to the story, and the attention it garnered caused the fast food giant to reduce the temperature of their hot beverages, which, evidence from the trial showed, were indeed hot enough to cause such burns. For more on this case, click here.
Bill Coats is an experienced personal injury attorney working for clients in Bellingham and Whatcom County. If you have been the victim of an accident – though hopefully not in one of the above scenarios – don’t hesitate to call for a free consultation about your case.