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5 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

A colorful headstone, an emotionally supportive pet and lawsuits against two TV personalities

Prohibited Pet

Guinea pigs: oversized rodents or woman’s best friend? The answer is apparently the latter, if a recent lawsuit from a Michigan student is any indication. Kendra Velzen, who suffers from severe depression, sued Grand Valley State University after it refused to let her carry her pet guinea pig around campus. The university allowed Velzen to keep the animal in a pet-free dorm, since it was an assistance animal that provided her with “emotional support and attachment.”

But Grand Valley would not allow the student to take the guinea pig to class or into food service establishments. Velzen sued the school for failing to accommodate her depression, and she reportedly won $40,000 in a recent settlement.

Cruise Catastrophe

Carnival Corp. isn’t having the best year, and a disgruntled passenger is adding to the cruise line’s legal troubles with accusations that its staff got her drunk and then refused to turn the ship around when she subsequently fell overboard. Sarah Alexandra Badley Kirby claims that bartenders on a 2012 Miami-to-Jamaica cruise “kept pushing” Long Island iced teas at her and her friends.

An intoxicated Kirby subsequently fell seven stories off of her cabin’s balcony, hitting a lifeboat on the way down. She claims that the captain refused to turn the ship around until the staff first searched the vessel, even though several other passengers had seen her fall overboard. The crew eventually found Kirby in the water, almost two hours after her fall. The passenger, who allegedly suffered injuries including fractured ribs, hearth arrhythmia, lung contusions and hypothermia, is now suing the cruise line for negligence and intentional infliction emotional distress.

Photo credit: David Shankbone

Torturous Treatment

Doctors are taught to “first, do no harm,” but one famous physician did just the opposite with his medical advice, according to New Jersey resident Frank Dietl. Dietl says that he severely burned his feet after he sought to cure his insomnia with a “knapsack heated rice footsie,” a remedy recommended by television physician Dr. Mehmet Oz.

In an episode of “The Dr. Oz Show,” the surgeon advised viewers to cure sleeplessness by filling the toes of a pair of socks with uncooked rice, heating the socks in a microwave and wearing them for 20 minutes. Dietl says that he suffered third-degree burns when he tried the remedy, although he didn’t realize it until he tried to get up in the middle of the night wearing the socks, perhaps because he suffers from foot numbness as a result of his diabetes. He is now suing Dr. Oz for failing to warn viewers that people who suffer from such numbness—known as neuropathy—should not wear the rice footsies.

Taboo Tombstone

You can rest in peace at Indiana’s St. Joseph Catholic Church, as long as you don’t do it under a couch-shaped headstone. Shannon Carr says that she spent $9,600 on a headstone for her husband Jason’s grave, following his death in a car accident. But this wasn’t your standard grave marker: Besides being shaped like a sofa, it also featured pictures of a dog, a deer and the logos of both NASCAR and the Indianapolis Colts.

The church, however, wasn’t as enamored of the gravestone, and refused to install it in the cemetery. Church officials say they told Carr before she bought the headstone that it was too secular to meet the church’s requirements. But Carr is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis Properties Inc., claiming that the regulations against such headstones weren’t formalized until more than a year after she tried to install the marker.

Photo credit: Susan Roberts

Cheap China

Of all the courtroom opponents to go up against, Judge Judy Sheindlin isn’t the one most people would pick. But that’s just what Patric Jones, the judge’s ex-TV producer, did, when she sued the fiery jurist for allegedly buying a set of fine china for an artificially low price.

Jones, who is in the process of divorcing Sheindlin’s current executive producer Randy Douthit, says that the judge bought a set of Christofle china and flatware from Douthit for $50,815, even though the set is worth upwards of $500,000. The problem, Jones says, is that the dishes were community property and Sheindlin should have known she could not purchase them without the consent of both spouses. Judge Judy denied any wrongdoing, but has reported agreed to settle the suit by returning the china.

Contributing Author

Alanna Byrne

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