Monday, February 05, 2007


So apparently the Stella awards have come out again. And unlike previous so-called "Stella Award" winners (like the woman who allegedly won money for being injured while trying to break into a bar), this site claims that they are all real.

Number 5 on their list is Mary Meckler's suit against Westfield, which owns a number of malls in the U.S. including one in Skokie where Ms Meckler was shopping in 2004. While walking through the courtyard area in the mall, she was attacked by a squirrel which caused her to eventually fall and hurt herself. According to at least one blogger, this is an open air mall complete with landscaping. The Stella awards like to mock this and say that she should have known that squirrels live outside. However, the owner of the property also had a duty to try and ensure that the animals were not encouraged to approach and agitate for food, as it appears they have failed to do, since employees at the mall apparently fed the squirrels. At first it sounds a little weird, but when you look at something like this from a legal point of view, this is not a case of some personal injury lawyer trying to make a grab at extra money. Land owners have always been held to a high standard of care, especially businesses to people who come in for shopping and etc. The landowner created the problem, the landowner should be held responsible for the injuries.

Number 4 on the list is the case of Ron and Kristie Simmons v. MTD Products Corp. This case, involving the death of a 4 year old when he was run over by a lawn tractor in reverse, resulted in a $ 2 million verdict for the family of the dead son. Interestingly enough, this case comes out of Virginia. Virginia, the last time I checked still had contributory negligence on the books (and apparently still is). What this means is, if you are even 1% at fault for the accident, then you do not get to collect any damages even though the other side was 99% responsible for the injuries. In this case, a lawn tractor manufactured by MTD was going up an incline, when it suddenly started to roll backwards. The engine apparently turned off, at which point the driver tried to restart it, only then noticing that the boy was underneath the tractor.

Tragic yes. The people over at the Stella awards would have you believe that it should end there, or at worst the blame should only be on the driver of the lawn mower. However, the MTD tractor is designed to not have the blades operate while in reverse. However, this turn off does not stop the blades when the lawn mower merely rolls, unpropelled by the driver's instructions, in reverse (see the bottom of the article). Since MTD had taken the time to prevent the blades from running in when the machine goes in reverse, why should we not expect them to make the machine safe itself when it going in reverse during a mishap? That's right, apparently the Stella awards people think you should be immunized for getting it half right.

Number 3 on the list is actually my favorite. Robert Clymer is an FBI Agent straight out of central casting apparently. He heads up big investigations and then goes home and drinks. Or rather, starts drinking on his way home.

Yes, it is true. Special Agent Clymer was driving drunk on the night in question. He did pop the curb. However, from the accounts I have read so far available on the web, he did not hit anything. He did not run his car into anyone. And yet, his car started to fill with smoke, requiring him to be taken to the ER and the Las Vegas Fire Department to respond to the smoking engine.

Apparently, according to the Stella people, the fact that he was drunk driving should absolve Chevrolet of all responsibility for the car. However, what if Special Agent Clymer had not been drinking and instead sitting in an idling car while waiting for his kids/on a stakeout/at a stop light/ stuck in a traffic jam and the engine started smoking like that and catching fire, just like it did the night he rolled up on a curb and let the engine idle while he passed out? Special Agent Clymer is apparently already facing the results of his drunk driving. Why should Chevrolet, part of GM, which recently was trumpeting their commitment to quality, not be called to account for why one of its engines suddenly caught on fire from merely idling?

Number 2 on their list is's suit against Google. Now on the surface, this seems like a frivolous law suit. However, when you consider how much we rely on for searching, some questions need to be raised. In this case,, which deals with parenting issues for parents, believes that Google has been unfair with them, especially in its search rankings because they allege that they are a competitor with Google. There's some interesting analysis about this over Technology and Marketing Law and 43(b). He finds that some of the causes of action should be dismissed, but that others have some validity. The author comes down on the side of saying this is a case that should not go forward more on the grounds that it brings in a notion of regulation into the search engine business. To an extent I agree with that, but Google admittedly does manually tinker with its search results. Therefore, there needs to be some accountability to show that there is a valid business reason for this and to let consumers know about this. Otherwise, they will simply trust whatever Google serves up in the first ten hits believing those to be the most valid, instead of understanding that there are other forces at play. If there is indeed an alleged blacklist, then Google has done wrong.

And their number 1 case of the year was Allen Ray Heckard. This was the man who has very few of the same dimensions as Michael Jordan, but insists that people mistake him for Jordan all the time. All I can say about this is, this is what happens when you try to act as your own attorney, you get a fool for a client. But then again, I would still rather live in a country where fools are allowed to file suits unimpeded by the judgment of those who have self-appointed themselves to be their betters. The point of a justice system is to make the community feel as those everyone has equal access to it, not just the ones who are deemed deserving by some subjective standard.

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