With more than 40 million lawsuits are filed in the U.S. each year, there will inevitably be a long list of cases that border on absurdity.

Also referred to as frivolous lawsuits, a ridiculous lawsuit lacks any rational basis for being filed and demonstrates a distinct lack of legal merit. Often, these lawsuits are filed in bad faith, and while the purpose may be to try to collect a big payday, other motivations can include an intent to embarrass or harass someone.

This article examines some of the most ridiculous lawsuits in history and shares strategies for preventing being a defendant in a frivolous claim, especially when you have substantial assets to protect.

What are some famous examples of ridiculous lawsuits?

There’s no shortage of ridiculous lawsuits we can cover, but these take the cake.

McDonald’s Hot Coffee

One of the most famously ridiculous lawsuits happened in 1994, when a woman sued McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on her lap. McDonald’s attempted to argue that everyone knows coffee is hot, and it was her own fault for spilling coffee all over herself.

The jury was not persuaded, however, evidence of the fast food chain knowingly serving coffee at near-boiling temperatures was uncovered. The plaintiff won the lawsuit and was awarded millions of dollars. Both parties appealed the decision, and eventually settled out of court.

“Drive-Thru” Diet Lawsuit

woman eating burger at wooden table outdoors

Most people understand that fast food isn’t healthy, but when these restaurant chains claim to have diet-friendly choices, they could find themselves in court. This was the case for McDonald’s (again), which was sued by a group of consumers who claimed that consuming food from the McDonald’s menu led to a whole host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and elevated blood pressure.

Suing Weather Forecast

Meteorologists are notorious for getting the weather forecast wrong, and it turns out you could even get sued for it! At least that’s what happened in one case, where a woman relied on a meteorologist’s prediction of sunny conditions.

In actuality, it rained, and the woman in question said she left the house without proper attire, became ill, and missed work because of it. The parties settled out of court, and the weatherman issued an apology.

“Too Handsome” Lawsuit

Who knew that someone’s physical appearance could lead to a lawsuit? A K-pop star in Korea was sued by his most loyal fans for being too good-looking. Apparently, when life isn’t fair, disgruntled people feel vindicated by turning to the justice system.

Suing Subway Over Missing Sandwiches

Subway is famous for its foot-long sandwiches, but they were recently called for those heroes being less than 12 inches. One industrious teenager with a tape measure determined the sandwiches were only 11 inches long.

Ultimately, the sandwich chain agreed to increase the size of its sandwiches to the advertised dimensions.

Man Sues Himself

Can you sue yourself in court? Well, you can try, but it’s probably not going to go well. That’s what one man with split personalities discovered when he tried to sue himself on the grounds that one of his personalities violated his religious beliefs.

Are there any industries particularly susceptible to facing ridiculous lawsuits?

stethoscope vial and syringe on blurry background

Anyone can be sued, but companies or industries with the deepest pockets are most susceptible to lawsuits.

  • Food and beverage: This industry is ripe for claims about labeling, health claims, ingredients, contaminants, and promises of health benefits.
  • Pharmaceuticals and healthcare: Product liability and malpractice suits are common, especially when there are allegations of side effects, pricing policies, or treating illnesses.
  • Entertainment and media: Copyright infringement and defamation claims are commonplace in the courtroom, especially when the stakes are high or celebrities are involved.
  • Financial services: People take their money seriously, and if someone feels like they’ve been the victim of fraud or that a company breached its fiduciary duty to a consumer, a lawsuit may be imminent.

Do ridiculous lawsuits ever succeed in court?

While the U.S. justice system is decent at weeding out or thwarting frivolous claims, it’s still possible for someone to file a seemingly frivolous lawsuit and win. If a case strikes a nerve with a jury, for example, even a plaintiff with a ridiculous claim can win.

It’s also possible for parties to settle outside of court, especially if a company or individual wants to avoid negative publicity or reputational damage.

Can filing a ridiculous lawsuit have consequences for the claimant?

Filing a lawsuit can have unintended consequences, even in cases where there are legitimate grounds for suing. However, you are more likely to face the following consequences in the case of a ridiculous lawsuit:

  • Dismissal of the lawsuit: A judge can dismiss a lawsuit if they feel it is frivolous or lacks legal merit. This can result in wasted time and resources for the claimant.
  • Damage to reputation: If you file a ridiculous or groundless lawsuit, it can result in ridicule or embarrassment on an international level.
  • Counterclaims: Any time you sue someone, the defendant can file a counterclaim. Counterclaims further complicate legal proceedings.
  • Legal Fees and Costs: If it’s determined that a lawsuit is frivolous, a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the other party’s legal fees and court costs. This would be in addition to paying their own fees, too.

How do ridiculous lawsuits affect society and the legal system?

increasing stack of coins with arrow on top

Unfortunately, ridiculous lawsuits can have a detrimental effect on society and the legal system as a whole.

Diminished Trust in the Legal System

When one of these cases makes it to court, it can lead to everyone shaking their heads and wondering about the efficacy of the justice system and even the integrity of the legal professionals involved. We need to trust our justice system to deliver fair and just outcomes.

Higher Cost to Consumers

Lawsuits are expensive, and if a company has to pay seven or eight figures to defend a claim, these legal costs may ultimately be passed down to the consumer.

Deterrence of Legitimate Claims

Seeing the consequences of frivolous lawsuits can make people with legitimate legal claims hesitant to come forward. They may fear reputational damage or incurring the other party’s legal fees. Over time, this can undermine the goal of the justice system.

Impact on Business and Innovation

Defending frivolous claims is a drain on a company’s time and resources. While a company is embroiled in a ridiculous lawsuit, it is distracted from legitimate business activities that drive an organization forward. Further, companies may be hesitant to innovate or experiment for fear of being sued for something ridiculous.

Can ridiculous lawsuits be prevented?

While there’s no guarantee that you will never fall victim to a frivolous lawsuit, there are protections to potentially prevent a ridiculous lawsuit from being filed against you. And, if you do find yourself defending one of these claims, there are ways to minimize the financial impact.

  • Asset protection: Higher net-worth individuals and businesses can implement various asset protection strategies to shield themselves from litigation risks. By working with an asset protection attorney, you can structure your assets to minimize your exposure to creditors and potential litigants. Trusts, corporate entities, and insurance policies are prime examples of asset protection instruments.
  • Tort reform: While it’s important to protect an individual’s right to seek justice, there are tort reform policies aimed at modifying the civil justice system to make it less desirable or profitable to file ridiculous lawsuits. These policies may limit damage awards and impose penalties for making a mockery of the courts.
  • Sanctions for frivolous claims: Similar to tort reform, penalties can be imposed on a plaintiff who files a frivolous claim. This could potentially limit the number of future ridiculous lawsuits.
  • Education and awareness: Publicizing the most ridiculous lawsuits and educating the public about how harmful these claims can be may promote more responsible behavior and respect for the legal system.
  • Streamlined court procedures: Not all legal grievances have to (nor should they) go through the courts. Mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution options can make the legal process more efficient.

How do insurance companies mitigate the risks associated with ridiculous lawsuits?

Different types of insurance policies exist to reduce the cost of frivolous lawsuits for companies and individuals, helping them protect their property from lawsuits. Because insurance companies are responsible for paying out these claims, they take special care to protect their own coffers, too.

To mitigate the risks associated with ridiculous lawsuits, insurance companies may engage in extensive underwriting and risk assessment before extending policy protection. They may also exclude or limit certain claims. Another tactic is to thoroughly investigate a claim before paying and leverage skilled negotiation teams to minimize payouts.

To help protect your assets from any type of lawsuit, it’s highly recommended to have a robust asset protection strategy in place. To learn more, contact Blake Harris Law today.