If you have been following the recent debate over the health care now pending in the Senate, you probably have heard some talk by conservative Republicans about “frivolous lawsuits.” This “old saw” gets rolled out by the Grand Old Party every time any bill comes before Congress that might remotely impinge upon the American Medical Association, which is one of the GOP’s biggest contributing PACs. Enacting further curbs on “abusive litigation” is the GOP’s answer to paying for the Democrat-sponsored health care plan.
It should come as no surprise then that so-called “Stella Awards” are circulating throughout the Internet, no doubt hitting inboxes even as I am typing. The “Stella Awards” are awards given out to the worst, most bogus lawsuits of the prior year. They are named after Stella Liebeck who, in 1992, spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee onto her lap, causing third degree burns. She sued McDonald’s for delivering extremely hot (undrinkable/ burning) coffee and was awarded USD$2.9 million in damages, subsequently reduced by the judge to $640,000, though a later secret settlement was reached between Liebeck and McDonald’s. At the time of Liebeck’s suit, McDonald’s was facing similar lawsuits all over the country, each complaining about the excessive temperature of the restaurant’s coffee.
Despite being a civil litigator, and without debating the merits of Liebeck’s suit, I cannot stand stupid lawsuits. Worse than stupid lawsuits, however, are stupid made-up lawsuits. If you have received an email in the last few days – even one proclaiming that it contains true Stella Awards, then chances are you or someone in your email chain has been “punk’d” by some idiot with nothing better to do than to stir up people’s ire over allegedly frivolous lawsuits. This problem has gotten so bad that the actual Stella Awards website itself is complaining to the public (and trying to educate them) about the problem. You can read more at the real, honest-to-God, Stella Awards website here.
There is nothing wrong with being concerned about abusive litigation tactics. If you are, then you might want to read up on the truly abusive and costly litigation tactics of corporations like AT&T. In the meantime, don’t get taken in by the story of the guy in the Winnebago – that poor fictional dude wins these phony, baloney awards every single year.