Lawsuit urban legends

by Walter Olson on June 14, 2003

The following advisory originally appeared Aug. 27, 2001 on Overlawyered in slightly different form. It is reprinted here because it is among the information most often requested by visitors to the site.

You’ve probably seen it in your inbox: a fast-circulating email, often labeled “Stella Awards”, which lists six awful-sounding damage awards (to a hubcap thief injured when the car drives off, a burglar trapped in a house who had to eat dog food, etc.). Circumstantial details such as dates, names, and places make the cases sound more real, but all signs indicate that the list is fictitious from beginning to end, reports the urban-legends site Snopes.com (Barbara Mikkelson, “Inboxer rebellion: tortuous torts“). Snopes also has posted detailed discussions of two of the other urban legends we get sent often, the “contraceptive jelly” yarn, which originated with a tabloid (“A woman sued a pharmacy from which she bought contraceptive jelly because she became pregnant even after eating the jelly (with toast).” — “Jelly babied“) and the cigar-arson fable (“A cigar aficionado insures his stogies against fire, then tries to collect from his insurance company after he smokes them.” — “Cigarson“). And the story about the man setting the cruise control in his new Winnebago recreational vehicle, leaving the driver’s seat, and then suing the company after the resulting accident? That’s an urban legend too. What we wonder is, why would people want to compile lists of made-up legal bizarreries when they can find a vast stockpile of all-too-real ones just by visiting this website [and in particular its personal responsibility archives, older and newer series]?

NAMES IN STORIES: The never-happened stories include tales about “Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas” (trips on her toddler in furniture store); “Carl Truman of Los Angeles” (hubcap theft) “Terrence Dickson of Bristol Pennsylvania” (trapped in house), “Jerry Williams of Little Rock Arkansas” (bit by dog after shooting it with pellet gun), “Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania” (slips on drink she threw), and “Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware” (breaks teeth while sneaking through window into club). All these incidents, to repeat, appear to be completely fictitious and unrelated to any actual persons with these names.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Bogus “Stella Awards” — at VC
09.10.08 at 8:53 am
February 1 roundup
02.01.09 at 1:04 am

{ 4 comments }

1 f/k/a . . . . 05.29.05 at 9:25 pm

while tom’s at home . . .

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2 ProfessorBainbridge.com 06.02.05 at 2:47 pm

Insure your cigars?

Father Neuhaus passes this one along:A reader found this on the Internet, so it must be true. A man in Charlotte, North Carolina, bought a box of very expensive cigars which he insured against fire. Having smoked them, he filed

3 Overlawyered 10.21.05 at 8:04 am

Responses to comments on yesterday’s McDonald’s coffee posts

Several comments on yesterday’s post merit responses. 1. One commenter invokes the Ford Pinto case, which is interesting because that’s perhaps the most famous anti-reform urban legend of all. He mistakenly says that Ford’s problem…

4 Overlawyered 01.04.06 at 7:19 pm

New sidebar: this site’s greatest hits

We’ve added, along the right column of this site’s front page, a new sidebar feature entitled “Greatest Hits”, linking to a selection of our and readers’ favorite posts from the past (and maybe a stray…

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