In probably the most famous example of a seemingly trivial legal action is Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants,also known as the McDonald’s coffee case and the hot coffee lawsuit
In 1992 Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, bought a cup of coffee from a drive through McDonalds and as she removed the lid spilled the entire cup of coffee on her lap.
She was wearing cotton sweatpants; they absorbed the coffee and held it against her skin, scalding her thighs, buttocks, and groin.
Hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment she sued the fast food giant claiming it was too hot and more likely to cause serious injury than coffee served at any other establishment.
She won an astonishing £1.7million.
Pearson v. Chung
Better known as the “pants lawsuit”, was a civil case filed in 2005 by Roy L. Pearson, Jr., an administrative law judge in the District of Columbia in the United States.
It came as a result of a dispute with a dry cleaning company over a lost pair of trousers.
Pearson sued for £40million for inconvenience, mental anguish and fees for representing himself, as a result of their failure, in Pearson’s opinion, to live up to a “satisfaction guaranteed” sign that was displayed in the store.
Pearson lost the case but only after after four years of trying every legal avenue to win.
In January this year a 26-year-old pimp from Portland, Oreogan sued Nike for £60million claiming the shoe manufacturer is partially responsible for a brutal beating that helped net him a 100-year prison sentence.
Sirgiorgiro Clardy claims Nike should have placed a label in his Nike Air Jordan shoes warning consumers that they could be used as a dangerous weapon.
He was wearing a pair when he repeatedly stomped the face of a man who was trying to leave a Portland hotel without paying Clardy’s prostitute in June 2012.
In 2013 he was found him guilty of second-degree assault for using his Jordans to beat the man’s face to a pulp.
The man required stitches and plastic surgery on his nose.
His mammoth sentence also includes time for beating a 18-year-old woman he forced to work as a prostitute so badly she bled from her ears.
In January a mystery rock which looked like a jelly filled doughnut was spotted in photographs taken on Mars by NASA’s Opportunity rover.
Scientists said the reason it hadn’t been there before was it was most likely something which had been moved by the rover.
However the explanation wasn’t enough for Rhawn Joseph, a neuropsychologist and author, who filed a lawsuit in a California court demanding NASA “thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate” the mystery object that seemingly appeared out of nowhere on the surface of Mars this month.
Joseph claimed the rock wasn’t moved into view by anything; it was already there and grew to its present size in 12 days adding that it was “inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre” that NASA did not take close-up photos from a variety of angles, and requested that “100 high-resolution photos and 24 microscopic in-focus images of the object’s exterior” be provided to him.
Scientists later decided that a rover wheel had rolled over a rock, broken off a bit of it, and sent the chip downhill to where it was seen days later.
The dark red “filling” could have formed geologically recently after erosion exposed the rock at the surface, scientists said, or it could have formed long ago deep within Mars.
This one is little vague as to it’s truth but here goes.
Apparently at first, he thought his wife had cheated on him because there was no way a good-looking guy like him could have or even produce an unattractive baby.
After his ex-wife proved that the baby was his through a DNA test, she let him in on a little secret – that she had undergone about £70,000 worth of cosmetic surgery in South Korea.
It was reported he sued her for not telling him about the plastic surgeries and making him think she was actually beautiful and apparently won the case and £80,000.
There have been no names attached to this and rumours it was made up but it such a good story if true.
The firm behind the golden arches are in the firing line again.
A man is suing McDonald’s for £1million because he says he suffered emotional distress after only receiving one napkin with his order.
Webster Lucas, ordered a Quarter Pounder Deluxe in Pacoima, Calif., lin January this year, and confronted the manager to ask for more napkins.
When the manager allegedly refused, Lucas apparently he said that he should have gone somewhere else.
African American Lucas says that the manager then made a racist comment, mumbling “something about ‘you people’,”.
When entering an attraction that includes the word, “horror” it’s fair to say you should expect a touch of fright. But a 57-year-old woman visiting the Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights haunted house still felt she was unreasonably frightened by the experience. Her lawsuit claimed mental anguish and psychological trauma, which are legitimate injuries but may not have been so legitimate in the case of someone choosing to enter a haunted house.
What’s sometimes left out of the reporting of this story is that the woman slipped and fell as she was attempting to run away from a chainsaw-wielding frightener, and instead of inquiring after her wellbeing, he continued the scare tactics. If she had been physically injured and the fall had been caused by some negligence on the part of those responsible for maintaining the safety conditions of the haunted house, then perhaps this case would not have been dismissed.
It’s always a good time to stop for doughnuts, right? Wrong. A Houston ambulance driver inexplicably decided to stop for a dozen while transporting an injured boy to the hospital. Not surprisingly, the boy’s mother filed a complaint and that led to the driver’s termination.
He turned around and sued the city for intentional infliction of emotional distress when they fired him. But this was thrown out as state law protects municipalities from this type of claim.
Weather or Not
Do you curse the TV weather reporter when the actual conditions turn out to be different than his or her forecast? Well, a woman in Israel went one step further – she actually sued a television station for irreparable damage and stress that resulted from an inaccurate forecast that caused her to dress inappropriately. She was caught in the rain unexpectedly in light clothing, which caused her to get sick, miss work and pay for medication. She won her $1000 case and received her rewards.
One New York man had a very unpleasant dining experience at Subway when he discovered a serrated knife baked his sandwich bread. Fortunately he didn’t bite into it or sustain any cuts from the knife, but he did claim to get sick after eating part of the sandwich that may have been contaminated from the knife. He sued for $1 million but was awarded $20,000.
Whale of a Tale
You’d think that having the word “killer” in its name would deter anyone from ever attempting to befriend a killer whale. Not so in the tragic case of a 27-year-old Florida man who went to great lengths to achieve his lifelong dream of swimming with one at Sea World.
The man managed to hide from park security at closing time and then entered the killer whale’s tank once everyone was gone.
Most would say it’s not too big of a surprise that the man was killed by the whale. But his parents thought Sea World was responsible and sued them for the death of their son, claiming that the park should have displayed signs that stated the whale’s killing capacity and should not have sold friendly-looking killer whale stuffed animals in the gift shop. The case never went to trial because the parents dropped the case not long after it was filed.
You pretty much know what you’re getting when you watch shows like NBC’s Fear Factor but an Ohio man in 2005 thought the show went too far when contestants were challenged to eat rats. This gross display caused him to become nauseous, throw up and even run into a doorway as he dizzily tried to make his way out of the room. He decided this suffering was worth $2.5 million and that NBC should pay. It should come as no great shock that the case was thrown out.
Case of the Missing Pants
Most would consider it an inconvenience and annoyance if a dry cleaner lost one of their garments. But Roy L. Pearson, Jr., an administrative law judge in D.C., was far more outdone when a dry cleaner lost a pair of his trousers. He sued for $54 million, claiming mental anguish and a failure of the company to live up to the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign they displayed.
After a multi-year legal battle, the case came to an end in the favor of the owners of the dry cleaning business.
IN JANUARY, A Quebec man named Sylvio Langvein walked into a courthouse in Canada and filed a suit declaring himself owner of the planets in our solar system, four of Jupiter’s moons, and the interplanetary space between.
By way of explanation, Langvein said he wanted to collect planets the same way that others collect hockey cards, and also prevent China from establishing outposts above his head.
The judge overseeing the case, Alain Michaud, dismissed it in March, calling Langvein a “quarrelsome litigant” whose paranoid actions were an abuse of the Canadian legal system. (This was Langvein’s 45th lawsuit — including four motions to the Supreme Court of Canada — since 2001).
The case is bizarre, but not unprecedented.
“Every now and then, someone thinks no one has claimed the moon before, and then rushes to claim it,” wrote Virgiliu Pop, a space law researcher at the Romanian Space Agency, in an email to Wired. “Humankind has a short collective memory, so the claimant is able to create some buzz before the story dies out — to be followed by a similar story, years later.”
As we enter an era when people are seriously advocating that the U.S. establish property rights on the moon and scholars debate the legality of mining asteroids, it’s interesting (and relevant) to look back at the people who have tried to assert ownership of the moon, Mars, other planets, and stars throughout history.
In 2006, Pop literally wrote the book on this matter, titled Unreal Estate: The Men Who Sold The Moon, which he describes as “a serious analysis of a trivial subject.” The compendium offers plenty of outrageous stories, and here we look at some of the book’s most spurious and strange space cases.
INHERIT THE MOON
Alexander the Great is said to have wept when told by his friend, the philosopher Anaxarchus, that there are countless worlds in the universe.
“Do you not think it a matter worthy of lamentation that when there is such a vast multitude of worlds, we have not yet conquered one?” Alexander said.
Great as Alexander’s ambitions were, he never attempted to draw up documents declaring himself owner of anything in the sky. But one of the earliest modern cases where such claims are made comes from King Frederick the Great, who ruled Prussia in the mid-1700s.
The king was said to have sought help from a great healer named Aul Jurgens and, in exchange for the miraculous cures he received, bequeathed the moon to Jurgen’s family until the end of time. This story comes from one of Jurgen’s descendants, Martin, who in 1996 tried to claim lunar ownership through his illustrious ancestor.
The next year, scholars at the Institute for Air and Space Lawin the Netherlands denied Jurgen’s claim on the grounds that the donation by a Prussian sovereign who didn’t actually own the moon in the first place wasn’t valid.
One night in 1936, A. Dean Lindsay looked up at the moon and thought to himself, “Nobody owns it!”
Seeking to rectify this situation, Lindsay marched into the Pittsburgh Notary Public office and presented a document declaring that he owned “[a]ll of the property known as planets, islands-of-space or other matter, henceforth to be known as ‘A.D. Lindsay’s archapellago.’”
Lindsay’s misspelled archipelago included every planet visible from any other planet or mass in space but omitted three bodies: the Earth, moon, and Saturn. The Earth, Lindsay reasoned, belonged to its inhabitants, but he drew up separate documents declaring himself owner of the moon and Saturn. (Why these two bodies in particular needed separate deeds, no one really knows.) He also registered the documents with the Irwin County Court House in Ocilla, Georgia.
Lindsay apparently planned to make a profit with his new properties (he had previously sold his two prior claims – the Pacific and Atlantic oceans) though little else came from the claims. Lindsay died in June of 1969, just a month shy of the Apollo 11 landing.
CELESTIAL SPACE NATION
James Thomas Mangan was, according to his autobiography, “an internationally famous speaker, a world champion top spinner, and one of the best grass cutters in America.” He was also founder of the Nation of Celestial Space, which he created in Evergreen Park, Illinois in 1949.
The country (known by its nickname, Celestia) laid claim to everything in space. Mangan presented the Charter of Celestia to the Recorder of Deeds and Titles of Cook County, Illinois, an occasion recorded by numerous media, including Life magazine.
Mangan sent letters to 74 nations inviting them to give him official recognition and applied for membership with the UN in 1948. The international organization rejected his application.
Over the years, Mangan needed to defend his nation’s sovereignty over space from several other contestants, including a student from Tennessee who registered the “southern half of outer space” and an inmate in Alcatraz who claimed his grandfather had been charged rent for sunlight by Austrian Emperor Franz Josef.
Mangan also fought with the USSR, protesting that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 was trespassing on his territory, and was angered that the U.S. didn’t ask his permission to send Surveyor cameras to the moon in 1966. But he was also generous with his powers, issuing a license for banking on the moon to the president of Chicago’s Beverly Bank and presenting official moon passports to the Apollo astronauts.
Though Mangan died in 1970, he passed control of Celestia to his son, James, and his daughter, Ruth. His grandchildren currently oversee the nation.
THE HEAD CHEESE
On Nov. 22, 1980, Dennis Hope registered the moon. In the “Declaration of Ownership” he filed with the San Francisco County office, he claimed that he would forever be known as “the omnipitant [sic] ruler of the lighted lunar surface,” with “the exalted title of, ‘The Head Cheese.’”
Hope also registered a business, the Lunar Embassy, and sent copies of his declaration to the U.S., USSR, and UN, along with a $55,000 storage and littering bill. Then Hope did what any entrepreneur would: He started selling off his property, acre by acre.
In the first years, the company sold 3,500 properties on the moon. But with better word-of-mouth and the advent of the internet, Lunar Embassy’s business began to boom. Hope now claims to have 3.6 million property owners in 181 countries, including George Lucas, Ron Howard, Carrie Fisher, members of royal families in six countries, two former U.S. presidents, and several astronauts. You can get an acre for the low, low price of about $20!
While Hope’s claim contradicts international space laws, Lunar Embassy is still in operation and is even selling .moon domain names as well as entire moons in the outer solar system.
The site MoonCertificate.com doesn’t rely on any silly Earth governments for its right to the moon. Claiming to be the “only lunar land deed site authorized by the true owners of the moon,” the site derives its authority from the Martian Council of Kings.
The site claims Martian “greys” established lunar property rights 7.2 million years ago and later contacted the website’s owner, allowing them to sell off certificates of ownership.
And, in case you’re wondering, you can also buy Uranus.
After NASA’s Pathfinder mission landed on Mars in 1997, the event drew legal ire from a group of Yemenites. According to Arabic news sources, three men — Adam Ismail, Mustafa Khalil, and Abdullah al-Umari — wanted to sue the agency for trespassing.
Filing a lawsuit with the Yemeni Prosecutor General, the trio argued that they inherited the planet from their ancestors 3,000 years prior, according to mythologies of the ancient Sabaean and Himyaritic civilizations.
The trio demanded the immediate suspension of NASA’s Martian operations and an information blackout on data collected about the Martian atmosphere, gravity, and surface. The Prosecutor General dismissed the case, calling the three plaintiffs “abnormal.”
After the claim failed, the three men went on to try and sell Martian property at $2 a square meter, though the effort never went very far.
When the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft touched down on asteroid 433 Eros in 2001, Gregory Nemitz was ready for it. Nemitz claimed the asteroid was under ownership of his company, Orbital Development, which aimed to mine the rocky body.
“As a Near-Earth Asteroid, Eros is a potential resource base for construction materials and propellants,” read the property claim, which Nemitz filed with the Archimedes Institute in 2000. It also stated that a recreational tourist facility would be built in the spaces cleared by mining.
Nemitz sent NASA an invoice for a parking fee, charging a reasonable $20 per Earth century, due within 21 days of landing. Because Orbital Development had no real legal standing, NASA respectfully declined to pay the fee.
NASA and Nemitz went back and forth for several months, with Nemitz claiming that he had legal ownership of Eros because of his property claim while NASA argued the filing had no foundation in law. An angry Nemitz sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell with his grievances and, after being told that his claim violated the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, filed a federal court case in Reno, Nevada concerning the “Treaty vs. the Natural, Inherent Rights of Man” to acquire and own property.
When that court case was dismissed, Nemitz filed with other federal courts, and briefly considered whether or not to take case to the Supreme Court. He eventually dropped the plan in 2005.
One of the most recent space cases involves Marina Bayross, a Russian spiritualist and astrologer. When she heard that NASA’s Deep Impact mission was going to fire a data-gathering projectile at comet Tempel 1, Bayross was disturbed and feared “that it could have an impact on all humanity.”
She brought forth a suit in Russia’s Presnensky District Court in Moscow against NASA, seeking 8.7 billion rubles (about $300 million) in compensation for moral damages. Bayross claimed that the mission was “an encroachment upon the ‘holy of holies’ – my system of life and intellectual values, my faith in the significance of each particle of the universe. This barbarous, arbitrary interference in the natural life of cosmos, and disturbance of the natural balance of forces in the universe, is not permissible.”
Indian astrologers in the 1960s had similarly been angry at the Apollo program, saying the moon was too tainted for use in soothsaying after a man walked on it. The Indonesian island of Bali is also said to have lodged a protest with the UN against the U.S. for desecrating a sacred place. Nothing came of these earlier incidents and Bayross’ suit was eventually dismissed by a higher Russian court.
Images: 1) NASA/Wired Science. 2) James T. Mangan. 3) Asteroid 433 Eros. NEAR Project, NLR, JHUAPL, Goddard SVS, NASA.