Free Enterprise Staff  | October 27, 2014

5 Lawsuits That Show It’s Time for Legal Reform

As economist Paul Rubin observed in a New York Times editorial, the U.S. is a notoriously litigious society, spending more than 2% of gross domestic product—more than $300 billion in 2010—on litigation. Roughly half of that sum, Rubin noted, is spent on legal fees, a fact that underscores how financial incentives can fuel baseless lawsuits.

It doesn’t take much time to find lawsuits whose claims are interesting, to say the least, with Faces of Lawsuit Abuse from the U.S. Chamber Institute of Legal Reform featuring countless such examples. After combing the site, we compiled a list of five of the most ridiculous lawsuits of the past couple of months.

1. The Guy Who Is Suing the New York Yankees, ESPN, & 2 Commentators for $10 Million

This past spring, a local baseball fan fell asleep at a Yankees game, earning him a mock ribbing from two ESPN personalities who were covering the game for the sports network. Though the episode was forgettable to nearly everyone who witnessed it, there is at least one person who hasn’t let it go. This past summer, according to The New York Post, Andrew Rector filed a $10 million defamation suit against the Yankees, ESPN, and the two commentators in question, Dan Shulman and John Kruk. In the suit he filed with New York’s Bronx Supreme Court, the 26-year-old concedes that he “briefly slept” during the game. Rector claims, however, that the jokes made at his expense—which he deemed “unmitigated verbal onslaughts”—have caused him duress, inflicting “substantial injury.” The case is still pending.

2. The Woman Who Stuck Her Hand Into a Lion’s Cage and Had It Bitten Off—and Is Now Suing the Zoo for Damages

Most people know from a very young age that it’s not a good idea to tease a wild animal. Ranae Ferguson, however, apparently had never heard that sage piece of advice, as she decided to reach into a lion’s cage while visiting the Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park in Michigan. Ferguson has filed suit against the zoo, claiming that zookeepers allowed her into the cage with the lion, which reportedly bit off her middle finger. Ferguson told WNEM News that she hopes her experience will prevent others from making the same mistake she did, and she has some wisdom for people out there who for some reason think it’s a good idea to pet a lion. “They are beautiful,” Ferguson told the news provider. “But don’t do it.”

3. The Woman Who Says Disney’s “Frozen” Is Based on Her Life Story and Is Suing for $250 Million

There was a period of time when it seemed impossible to escape the hysteria surrounding Disney’s 2013 animated musical Frozen, which grossed just under $1.3 billion during its worldwide box office run, according to Box Office Mojo. For one New Jersey woman, though, hearing “Let It Go” on repeat was apparently particularly upsetting. That’s because that woman, Isabella Tanikumi, claims that the movie was based on her life and that its filmmakers plagiarized 18 specific instances from her 2010 autobiography “Living My Truth,” according to CNN Money. The $250 million lawsuit, which Tanikumi filed in U.S. District Court, also demands that Disney immediately stop promoting and marketing the film. For the unfamiliar, Frozen tells the story of two princess sisters who are torn apart when one of them goes into a self-imposed exile in an ice castle she creates using her magical powers.

The case is still pending.

4. The Very Litigious Man Who Recently Filed Lawsuits Against 10 California Businesses

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a noble piece of legislation intended to prevent discrimination against those with disabilities. When 10 California businesses were recently slapped with lawsuits alleging they violated ADA provisions, however, they were surprised to learn that the man who filed charges against them had apparently brought lawsuits against hundreds of other businesses in the Golden State. According to the Merced Sun-Star, Cecil Shaw, who uses a wheelchair, recently brought suit against 10 firms. One of the targets was a Central Valley restaurant that he sued for $60,000 because it featured what he described as a steep entrance and lacked what he deemed appropriate parking for the disabled, among other alleged ADA violations. Shaw, who lives in Southern California, reportedly visited the restaurant in March during a road trip he took to Reno, Nevada. The suit, which asks for $60,000 in damages, was filed a few months later, according to the news provider.

5. The Firefighter Who Cited ‘Fear of Fire’ in His Disability Case

In another interesting use of the ADA’s protective provisions, a captain from Houston, Texas’s fire department citied ADA protections when he was released from his position. According to HR Morning, Shayn Proler , a former captain with the city’s fire department, allegedly failed to enter buildings that were on fire on multiple occasions. Following the second incident, he was moved from the first suppression team to the department’s training academy. Proler fought that ruling, though, and was eventually moved back to fire suppression—a decision the fire department fought. Proler then sued, alleging that his fear of fire was protected by the ADA. His argument was convincing enough for an appellate court, which awarded him more than $360,000 in damages. However, the case, City of Houston v. Proler, eventually made its way to the Texas Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision this past summer.

There has been no word yet on whether Proler plans on appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.