The 2015 Annual Stella Awards


Annual Stella Awards – 2015

Years ago, I remember meeting a friend for lunch on one of those Houston summer days that are still pretty much the same every year around here, come August.

As we left the restaurant, my friend invited me to take a look at the product warning that had been transcribed into the windshield sun screen that he had been using in his car to reduce the heat upon the car seats after a long locked up stay in the summer sun.

The sign read: “Do Not Attempt to Drive Your Car While this Sunscreen Is Still in Place, Covering the Windshield.”

Do I hear a few “duhs” going off in your brain. They did for me too until my lawyer friend explained that someone using this product had once attempted to drive without removing the sunscreen, an action that quickly resulted in a collision and some minor injuries to the product-blinded driver.

That same-blinded driver then sued the sunscreen company for failing to warn him of the dangers inherent in attempting to drive with the product still covering the windshield. I was told that the plaintiff won his suit, leading to the additional language, stating the reality that 99% of all drivers should be able to understand without written explanation. It was simply another legal-language “CYA” move to protect the company against a second suit by the next idiot who tried to drive bind with the help of their product.

They had now been warned.

This memory from my more innocent-thinking years came roaring back to me when another friend, Miriam Edelman, sent me a copy today of the results for the 2015 Annual Stella Awards.

The Stella Awards are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck, who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonald’s in New Mexico, where she purchased hot coffee. Stella had taken the lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving. 

What could possibly have gone wrong?

The Stella Awards now are extended in some kind of rank ordered way to the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. during a given year.

Here are the not-so “magnificent seven” Stella Awards for 2015, starting with what we suppose is the one with the least shock value to the one that totally breaks contact with the mind of ordinary reason:

SEVENTH PLACE                                           
Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The storeowners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the fact that the running toddler was her own son.

SIXTH PLACE                                           
Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles, California won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. xTruman apparently didn’t notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor’s hubcaps.

Terrence Dickson, of Bristol, Pennsylvania, who was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage.  Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open.  Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.  Forced to sit for eight, count ’em, EIGHT days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company claiming undue mental Anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish.  We should all have this kind of anguish.

Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Arkansas, garnered 4th Place in the Stella’s when he was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor’s beagle – even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania because a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone.  The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

Kara Walton, of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a nightclub in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000, plus dental expenses.

This year’s runaway First Place Stella Award winner was: Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich.  Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned.  Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her $1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home.

As with the window sunscreen company before them, and God and West’s only knows how many other manufacturers that have done the same, Winnebago changed their vehicle manuals as a result of this suit, just in case any of the other members of the Grazinski family are in the market for a mobile home that drives itself.

_____________________________ (W)

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3 Responses to “The 2015 Annual Stella Awards”

  1. shinerbock80 Says:

    This list dates back about 15 years. And while they might sound amusing, they are not true. Try this. link. It’s an interesting and thorough read.

    the Winnebago story is a decades old urban legend. My dad told me that one when I was a child in the 1970s.

    Furthermore, the original Stella Liebman case in 1994 was when she was handed a cup of coffee that was 190 degrees. In other words, an almost boiling cup of liquid handed to a 79 year old woman through her car window. When she removed the cup’s lid to add cream and sugar, the car was parked in the parking lot. She got third degree burns and was hospitalized for 8 days. McDonalds, btw, refused several settlement offers before losing the jury trial in which her attorneys argued that the coffee being served was much hotter than that served at other establishments and much hotter than a reasonable person would expect. Whether you believe that she deserved the big jury award or not, the true story shows that the woman was not stupid or negligent.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      I was writing for humor – not for history. My apologies for offending your more fundamental view of anything that goes to print.

      If all I ever wrote was biblically based, we would all be in deep doo. Maybe I should footnote all my columns with the following notations:

      (1.) Take me seriously;

      (2) Caution: humorous Intent is attempting an escape; and,

      (3) Don’t be so snarky about what you read this time. This one launches as the Internet ramblings of a restless, but somewhat likable and caring soul who does not write to please others – unless that just happens naturally.

      Have a nice day and please know this too: In spite of the great “oil and water” gulf that seems to often separate us by our very different intellectual inclinations and experiential perspectives, that I do very much respect your tenacious support of many of the same common community goals that I share with you.

  2. My Regrets and Apologies | The Pecan Park Eagle Says:

    […] […]

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