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I think my invitation must have been lost in the mail, so I knew nothing about this year's event until I read about it in the paper. I’m talking - of course - about the Stella Awards ceremony for 2008. It was held recently without me. At least I was spared the cost of renting a tuxedo and a limo.
For readers who don't chase ambulances for a living and therefore don't know what "The Stellas" are I'll give a quick background: The Stella Awards are named for Stella Liebeck who became an instant celebrity in personal injury circles when she spilled hot coffee on herself and then successfully sued the coffee purveyor - McDonald's - for her troubles, thereby allowing a jury of her peers to award her $2.9 million. Is this a great country, or what?
What happened was, Stella bought a cup of steaming-hot coffee, immediately took the lid off and put the piping-hot brew between her knees, while she was driving. What are the chances that a cup of hot coffee you've un-capped and propped precariously between your knees while driving would spill and burn you?
Anyway, the Stella Awards are named - in Stella's honor - for the most outlandish verdicts awarded in U.S. courts in the previous year.
Among the 2007 'Stella' winners was Katherine Robertson of Texas. She was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running around a furniture store. If you know anything about outrageous jury awards you're probably way ahead of me and have already guessed that the toddler she tripped over was HER OWN SON!
Another 'winner' was Carl Thomas of California who won $74,000 - plus medical expenses - when his neighbor ran over his hand with his Honda Accord. Seems Thomas didn't notice his neighbor at the wheel because he was too busy STEALING his neighbor's hub caps!
Stella winner Kara Walton of Delaware sued the owner of a night club because she fell from the club's bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. "Why," you ask, was she in the vicinity of the night club's bathroom window? Good question. Seems Kara was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to AVOID PAYING THE $3.50 COVER CHARGE. The jury ordered the club to pay $12,000 PLUS dental expenses.
Amber Carson - another 2007 Stella winner - sued a restaurant after she slipped on a spilled can of soda and broke her tailbone. What was the soft drink doing on the restaurant floor? - I hear the naive among you ask. Well, it seems Ms. Carson had thrown a can of soda at her boyfriend 30 seconds before her 'unfortunate accident.'
Who won First Place in the 2007 Stellas? That honor went to Mrs. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her trip home from an Oklahoma University football game - having driven on to the freeway - she set the cruise control at 70 mph and then casually sauntered off to the back of her rig to make herself a sandwich.
To no one's surprise except - apparently, Mrs. Grazinski's - the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. She sued Winnebago for not putting in its owner's manual that she couldn't actually leave the driver's seat while the 'cruise control was in the 'on' position.
A jury of her 'peers' awarded her - are you sitting down? - $1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home. Winnebago changed the wording in their manuals just in case any of those twelve numb jurors might want to buy one of their motor homes.
No one from Maine made the final cut in this year's Stella awards. That must mean our jurors aren't as numb as our lawyers would like them.
But there's always next year.
For those readers among you who say: John, Those lawsuits you cite can't possibly be true! I say: The mere fact that I found them on the internet - in cyber space - attests to their veracity.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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