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5 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

A rodent runs wild at Wal-Mart, Punxsutawney Phil gets it wrong, and three more strange lawsuits in the news

Rogue Rodent

You can find just about anything at Wal-Mart, and that apparently includes large, semiaquatic rodents. Louisiana resident Rebecca White was shopping at one of the retail chain’s locations in 2008 when she claims that a wild nutria, a beaver-like creature originally native to South America, “suddenly and without warning” came charging toward her. While attempting to shield herself from the animal, White purportedly pulled her loaded shopping cart over her foot, breaking two bones and damaging nerves.

When the startled shopper told store employees about her encounter, she allegedly discovered that not only did the workers know of the nutria’s presence in the store, they even had a name for him:  “Norman.” She sued Wal-Mart for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, fear, disabling injuries and medical expenses,” and settled with the company for an undisclosed sum earlier this month.

Student Suit

It appears that the University of New Mexico School of Law may be training its students too well. One of those aspiring attorneys sued the school after a classroom chair in which she was sitting allegedly collapsed, leaving her with serious injuries. Jennifer McCabe was assigned a UNM 56 “Think Chair” on her first day of classes last August. Just four days later, however, the chair’s back rest reportedly separated from its body when McCabe leaned back in it, and she hurt herself “as a result of the jerking movements” she used to keep herself from falling.

McCabe’s lawsuit includes the university’s Board of Regents, as well as New Mexico Office Furniture, which made the chair. She claims that a missing bolt caused the chair to malfunction, and that the furniture company should have assembled it properly.

Groundhog Goof

On Feb. 2, famed animal prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil predicted that spring would come early this year. But more than six weeks later, many Ohio residents were still suffering through low temperatures and lingering snowstorms, leading one state prosecutor to lodge a complaint against the famed groundhog. Mike Gmoser indicted Phil for fraud, claiming that he “did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that Spring would come early.”

The lawsuit was tongue-in-cheek, but the potential penalty was stiff: Since Phil already spends much of his time behind bars, Gmoser maintained that the death penalty was the only appropriate punishment. Phil escaped this grim fate, however, when his handler Bill Deeley took responsibility for misinterpreting the animal’s “groundhog-ese.”

Absent Alcohol

Many people would need a stiff drink if they were faced with a costly lawsuit. But for Pennsylvania man John Saunders, it was a stiff drink that landed him in legal trouble in the first place. Saunders, the former live-in caretaker at the J.P. Brennan mansion near Pittsburgh, Pa., is accused of drinking more than $102,000 worth of century-old whiskey from the house’s collections.

The whiskey, which was distilled in 1912, was discovered in the walls and stairwell of the house while it was undergoing renovations in 2008. The mansion’s current owner, Patricia Hill, claims that after Saunders moved out of the house, she discovered that 52 of the 108 whiskey bottles were empty. DNA testing of the bottles reportedly implicated Saunders. The caretaker, however, denies the allegations, and maintains that the whiskey is actually worth “about $10 a bottle.”

Cockroach Coffee

Nothing wakes you up like a good cup of coffee—unless it’s coffee with cockroaches inside.  That’s what three Illinois residents allegedly found when they went looking for a caffeine fix at a college vending machine. Bobbi Smith, a student at Joliet Junior College (JJC) in suburban Chicago, along with JJC employees Gary Broyles and Richard Anderson, claim that they purchased the coffee from an on-campus machine run by Hometown Suburban Vending, and drank part of the beverage before discovering the insects inside.

They are now suing the company, claiming that drinking the contaminated beverage caused them “great pain and anguish in both mind and body” and “hindered [them] from attending to usual affairs of life.”

Alanna Byrne

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