8 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

The following lawsuits exemplify the lighter, and sometimes bizarre, side of the legal world


Bible Brawl

You can call 2012 the “Year of the Dragon,” or even the “Year of the Apocalypse.” But a national group of agnostics and atheists is suing to stop Pennsylvania lawmakers from calling it the “Year of the Bible.”

Last month, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bundle of resolutions, including one that proposed the religious title. The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is suing the measure’s sponsor, Representative Rick Saccone, and two other house members, claiming that the resolution violates the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion.

Saccone isn’t backing down. "I think the unanimous vote in the PA House last week suggests that although it may not be politically correct to admit, our leaders certainly do recognize the value of God’s word in government. We will all be better off for it," the representative said in a February press release.

 

Flubbed Funeral

Funerals are depressing under any circumstances. So imagine the dismay of one Pennsylvania family when they arrived for a relative’s wake last November and saw the wrong body in the casket. The relatives of Richard Tkacik are suing the funeral home and medical center for confusing his body with that of another man.

According to the lawsuit, "The [family] told [the funeral home] that the body they were viewing was not that of the decedent. [The funeral home] argued that it was the correct decedent.” Family members eventually convinced the establishment of its error by pointing out Tkacik had a heart tattooed on his arm, and the body did not.

Tkacik’s body was eventually found at the hospital where he had died. The family is seeking more than $50,000 for emotional distress, humiliation and depression.


Banned Baby

When Catholic school teacher Christa Dias was 5 ½ months pregnant, she requested maternity leave—and was promptly fired. The problem? Dias had conceived through artificial insemination, which is forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church.

The archdiocese says that it must maintain an educational environment consistent with Catholic teachings, and that all employees sign a contract agreeing to live by church rules. But a judge allowed Dias’s suit to proceed, since she was not a religion teacher or a Catholic role model (Dias herself is not Catholic). She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

 


McDonald’s Madam

McDonald’s can make you fat, but can it make you a prostitute? Former employee Shelley Lynn is suing the restaurant chain, saying that her ex-husband, Keith Handley, "economically and psychologically" forced her into sex work after hiring her at one of his McDonald’s franchises in 1982.

McDonald’s was complicit in the coercion, Lynn says, because it “failed to conduct a due diligence into the moral character of Handley,” paid her inadequate wages and had no system for filing complaints against abusive employers. Lynn is suing the fast food giant, her ex-husband and his company, Ivernia, for lost wages and various compensatory and punitive damages.

 

© Christopher Peterson

Bashing Barbara

You can blame Barbara Walters for “The View,” but not for ruining the reputation of her daughter’s former friend. A Massachusetts judge dismissed a defamation suit filed against the journalist by Nancy Shay, who claimed that a passage in Walters’ 2008 autobiography caused her "great torment.”

In the book, Walters references one of her daughter’s friends “whom the school kicked out midterm for bad behavior.” Walters also wrote that she later found her daughter Jacqueline and said friend, “high on God-knows-what.” Shay claims to be the friend mentioned in the sentences, but says that Walters actually had her expelled after she began a lesbian relationship with Jacqueline.

U.S. District Judge George O’Toole was unmoved by Shay’s allegations, and ruled that even if her claims were true, the few people who could identify her based on the passages would presumably know the circumstances surrounding her expulsion.

Facebook Fraud

If Mark Zuckerberg thought that the Winklevii were his only nemeses, he was wrong. A new claimant to the Facebook fortune has emerged—this time, in the personage of New York entrepreneur Paul Ceglia.

In 2003, Ceglia hired then-Harvard undergrad Zuckerberg to develop his website, StreetFax.com. Zuckerberg’s lawyers say the pair’s contact ended there; but Ceglia claims that he paid Zuckerberg $1,000 to finance his fledgling Facebook site, in exchange for "half interest in the software, programming language and business interests derived from the expansion of that service to a larger audience."

He has filed a lawsuit, claiming 84 percent ownership of Facebook and seeking monetary damages. Facebook says that Ceglia, who first staked his claim to the social media site in June 2010, falsified e-mails and the original work contract to support his lawsuit.


 

© Kevin Aranibar

Bieber Fever

Poor Justin Bieber. First he was mistaken for a cartoon beaver, and now he could face multiple lawsuits for a Twitter prank gone awry. Last week, the teen star posted a message to Twitter that read “Call me right now,” followed by a Dallas-area phone number that was missing its final digit.

Bieber fans, not known for their skepticism, proceeded to besiege two unlucky citizens with messages like this one: "Justin, I know you're there! I love you so much! I'm sorry I called so late. But, I just got your number. I love you. I love you. I love you so much. Please call me back!"

Owners of two of the pranked numbers have retained attorneys, and are seeking apologies and compensation.


Apple Architecture

Who among us hasn’t walked into a door at least once in our lives? 83-year-old Evelyn Paswall broke her nose doing just that, and she wants $1 million for her suffering. Paswall has filed suit against Apple Inc., claiming that the company “was negligent … in allowing a clear, see-through glass wall and/or door to exist without proper warning.”

Paswall’s lawyer also chastised the tech company for attempting to be “cool and modern,” without recognizing “the danger that this high-tech modern architecture poses to some people.” Apple stores do have “warning strips” on all glass storefronts, to guard against similar accidents, but Paswall claims that the strips were either missing or inadequate.

Alanna Byrne

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