by Jedidja van Boven
The field of law seems to be dealing with some sort of image problem. It’s usually depicted as a stuffy, boring discipline where old people in ill-fitting blazers discuss fraud and tax evasion.
Sometimes, however, exceptions pop up in the international news scene. There have been weird lawsuits all over the world; often, they involve an individual suing a company for the strangest reasons.
A textbook example of extraordinary legal disputes that has become somewhat legendary is the 1994 McDonald’s case. In this situation, usually referred to as the ‘’hot coffee lawsuit’’ or the ‘’McDonald’s coffee case’’ but officially named Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, a 79-year-old American woman sued the popular fast food chain because their coffee was extremely hot. Liebeck spilled a cup of coffee on her lap, which left her with third-degree burns that required eight days of hospitalization and two years (!) of medical treatment.
Ms. Liebeck’s attorney, Reed Morgan, explained during the trial that many other similar restaurants served their coffee much cooler, which -even in the case of a spill- would not cause such severe burns. Liebeck was given thousands of dollars in compensations and McDonald’s was forced to add a warning message on the lids to ensure that consumers would be aware of the temperature of the beverage (they refused to change the actual temperature).
As crazy as this case might seem, it has often been referred to afterwards, particularly in the American discussion about tort law and about the necessity to be able to reform law when the situation calls for it. In addition, there have been similar cases since the original Liebeck question: a woman tried to sue McDonald’s in 2012 after burning herself on coffee, this time arguing that the lid had not been placed on the cup securely enough. She wasn’t as lucky as Liebeck- it was unclear how severe her injuries were, and her lawyer refused to provide details, which did not help her case.
There have been many more bizarre lawsuits like the coffee case: a Glasgow police officer claimed she had PTSD after being hit by a pineapple, a Dutch student sued Erasmus University after being expelled for having smelly feet, and a New Yorker stating that he had contracted food poisoning after his Subway sandwich had an entire knife baked into the bun (yikes).
Recently, another similarly ludicrous case came to light- Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old Dutch entrepreneur, insisted that his age on his passport be decreased by 20 years as he does not feel comfortable with the 69-year-old label. Ratelband felt he had been discriminated against when using a dating app because of his age, and compared his situation to that of a transgender person who wishes to have their gender indication on their passport changed.
The case quickly reached the international news outlets, with many people ridiculing the man for his arguably extreme claim. The judges have yet to issue a written verdict, but they seem skeptical, questioning what to make of the first 20 years off of Ratelband’s life- which would be wiped off the records if he were to get his way.
Even though it’s dubious at most whether Ratelband will win the case, he got something out of the whole debacle already: global media attention. His case was featured in Stephen Colbert’s television show and appeared in sources in Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. Ratelband is a self-proclaimed ‘’positivity guru’’ who is known for his relationship drama and other peculiarities that can frequently be found on Dutch gossip websites.
There are some who argue that people who try to force a lawsuit on such a strange basis are simply in it for that- attention. While their actual relevance in the field of law is a bit foggy, reading up on weird cases is definitely an easy way to make your next study session more bearable.
Jedidja van Boven, Class of 2020, is a Politics, Law, and Anthropology major from Oosterwolde, the Netherlands.
Image Source: https://www.teurlingsellens.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/o-LAW-facebook.jpg
Man Says Subway Baked A Knife Into His Bun. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-says-subway-baked-a-knife-into-his-bun/
Pfeifer, S. (2014). L.A. woman sues McDonald’s over hot coffee, 20 years after huge verdict. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/09/business/la-fi-mo-la-woman-sues-mcdonalds-over-hot-coffee-20-years-after-huge-verdict-20140109
Roper, M. (2013). World’s maddest claims for damages including the man who sued GOD and jailbird who sued HIMSELF. Retrieved from https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/worlds-maddest-claims-damages-including-1797365