Category: Law


Offbeat Wills

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  • The Deceased: Ms. Eleanor Ritchey, unmarried granddaughter of Quaker State Oil founder Philip John Bayer
  • The Bequest: Ritchey died in 1968, with an estate worth around $12 million.  According to Scott Bieber in Trusts and Estates magazine:  “Under her will, she left over 1,700 pairs of shoes and 1,200 boxes of stationary to the Salvation Army.  The rest of her estate went to the dogs.”  Real dogs, he means – a pack of 150 strays that Ritchey had adopted as pets.  The will set up a trust that permitted the mutts to live in the lap of luxury for up to 20 years.  At the end of that period – or on the death of the last of the dogs, whichever came first – the remainder of the estate went to Auburn University.
  • What Happened: In 1984, Musketeer, the richest dog in America and the last of the original 150, went to that great kennel in the sky.  Auburn got its money.
  • The Deceased: Patrick Henry, American patriot
  • The Bequest: Everything he owned was left to his wife . . . as long as she never married again.  If she did, she forfeited the whole thing.  “It would make me unhappy,” he explained, “to feel I have worked all my life only to support another man’s wife!”
  • What Happened: She remarried anyway
  • The Deceased: Charles Miller, famed Canadian lawyer
  • The Bequest: According to Thomas Bedell in Having the Last Word, his will “consisted mainly of practical jokes.  He willed shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to two crusaders against gambling.  To three men who hated one another, he left equal shares of the same house.  And part of his estate was promised to the Toronto mother giving birth to the largest number of children in the decade after his birth.”
  • What Happened: The public either loved or hated it.  Newspapers called it “the Stork Derby.”  Moralists tried to invalidate the will on the grounds that it promoted promiscuity.  But in the end, half a million dollars was split between a quartet of women who had each had nine kids in the 10 ensuing years.
  • The Deceased: Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc.
  • The Bequest: In addition to his normal earthly goods, Stevenson tried to leave his birthday.  He willed it to a good friend who’d complained that since she was born on Christmas, she never got to have a real birthday celebration.
  • The Deceased: An Australian named Francis R. Lord
  • The Bequest: One shilling to his wife “for tram fare so she can go somewhere and drown herself.
  • What Happened: The inheritance was never claimed.
  • The Deceased: A rich, unmarried New Yorker who died in 1880
  • The Bequest: He left everything to his nephews and nieces, with the exception of 71 pairs of pants.  He wrote:  “I enjoin my executors to hold a public sale at which these trousers shall be sold to the highest bidder, and the proceeds distributed to the poor.  No one purchaser is to buy more than one pair.”
  • What Happened: The auction took place.  Each person who bought a pair of pants, upon examining their purchase, discovered “a 41,000 bill sewn into a pocket.”
  • The Deceased: Sandra West, wealthy 37-year-old Beverly Hills socialite
  • The Bequest: Her estate was worth about $3 million, most of which she left to her brother – provided he made sure she was buried “in my lace nightgown and my Ferrari, with the seat slanted comfortably.”
  • What Happened: That’s how they buried her, surrounding the Ferrari with concrete so no one would be tempted to dig it up and drive it away.

Strange Lawsuits

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These days, it seems people will sue each other over practically anything.  Here are a few bizarre real-life court cases, taken from news reports.

  • The Plaintiff:  Randall Dale Adams
  • The Defendant:  Filmmaker Errol Morris
  • The Lawsuit:  Adams was convicted of murder in 1977.  Ten years later, Morris made a film about the Adams case and became convinced he was innocent.  The movie, The Thin Blue Line, presented the case for Adams’s innocence so effectively that he was released from prison.  Morris’s reward?  When Adams got out of jail, he sued the filmmaker for $60,000 for using his story.
  • The Verdict:  Settled out of court.  Adams dropped the suit, and Morris agreed that Adams should receive full rights to any further commercial uses – notably films or books – of his life.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  32-year-old Mary Sue Stowe
  • The Defendant:  Junior Davis, her ex-husband
  • The Lawsuit:  An unusual custody case:  When they split up, Mary wanted custody of seven frozen embryos that had been fertilized by Junior’s sperm.  Junior wanted them brought back to room temperature.
  • The Verdict:  The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – which sided with Junior.  Mary Sue’s lawyers said she was “devastated” by the ruling – but nevertheless would try to “talk one-on-one with her ex-husband” to get him to change his mind.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  J.R. Costigan
  • The Defendant:  Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a country music bar in Wilder, Kentucky.
  • The Lawsuit:  Costigan claimed a ghost “punched and kicked him” while he was using the bar’s restroom one night in 1993.  He sued the bar, asking for $1,000 in damages and demanding that a sign be put up in the restroom warning of the ghost’s presence.  The club’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing the difficulty of getting the ghost into court to testify for the defense.
  • The Verdict:  Case Dismissed

 

  • The Plaintiff:  The Cherry Sisters, an Iowa singing group
  • The Defendant:  The Des Moines Register
  • The Lawsuit:  A landmark libel case.  At the turn of the century, the Register ran a scathing review of the Cherry Sisters’ act.  Their reported wrote that “Their long, skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities . . . waved frantically at the suffering audience.  The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailings of damned souls issued therefrom.”  Outraged and humiliated, the singers sued for libel.
  • The Verdict:  The judge asked the sisters to perform their act for him in court . . . and then ruled in favor of the newspaper.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Andrea Pizzo, a 23-year-old former University of Maine student
  • The Defendant:  The University of Maine
  • The Lawsuit:  Apparently, Pizzo was taking a class in livestock management one afternoon in 1991, when a cow butted her.  She sued, claiming the school “should have known that the heifer had a personality problem.”
  • The Verdict:  Verdict Unknown (If anyone knows the answer, please let us know.)

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Robert Kropinski, a 36-year-old Philadelphia real estate manager
  • The Defendant:  The Transcendental Meditation Society and the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
  • The Lawsuit:  Kropinski worked with TM groups for 11 years, but he finally sued them because “he was never able to achieve the ‘prefect state of life’ they promised, and suffered psychological disorders as a result.  One broken agreement:  he had been told he would be taught to ‘fly’ through self-levitation, but he learned only to ‘hop with the legs folded in the lotus position.’”
  • The Verdict:  A U.S. district court jury in Washington, DC, awarded him nearly $138,000 in damages.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Ronald Askew, a 50-year-old banker
  • The Defendant:  His ex-wife, Bonnette
  • The Lawsuit:  In 1991, after more than a decade of marriage, Bonnette admitted to her husband that although she loved him, she’d never really found him sexually attractive.  He sued her for fraud.
  • The Verdict:  Incredibly, he won.  The jury awarded him $242,000 in damages.  However, the award was overturned.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  John Moore
  • The Defendant:  Regents of the University of California
  • The Lawsuit:  Moore claimed one of his organs was pirated.  In 1976, University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center doctors removed Moore’s spleen in a successful effort to cure his cancer.  Doctors later found that the spleen possessed unique cancer-fighting cells; experiments with the cells led to a new discovery worth an estimated $3 billion.  Moore, who was never told that his ex-organ had commercial value, sued for part of the profits.
  • The Verdict:  In 1990, 14 years after the operation, Moore lost the case.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Carl Sagan, world-famous astronomer
  • The Defendant:  Apple Computer, Inc.
  • The Lawsuit:  Late in 1993, computer designers at Apple code-named a new computer model Sagan.  Traditionally, this is an honor — “You pick a name of someone you respect,” explained one employee.  “And the code is only used while the computer is being developed.  It never makes it out of the company.”  Nevertheless, Sagan’s lawyers complained that the code was “an illegal usurption of his name for commercial purposes” and demanded that it be changed.  So Apple designers changed it to BHA.  When Sagan heard that it stood for “Butt-Head Astronomer,” he sued, contending that “Butt-Head” is “defamatory on its face.”
  • The Verdict:  Apple won.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  The Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
  • The Defendant:  Olaf Olavson
  • The Lawsuit:  In 1910, Olavson was desperate for cash, so he sold his body to the Karolinska Institute (to be used for medical research after he died.)  But in 1911 he unexpectedly inherited a fortune and decided to “buy himself back.”  To his surprise, the institute wouldn’t cooperate.  When Olavson flatly refused to donate his body, the institute actually sued for breach of contract.
  • The Verdict:  Not only did Olavson owe his body to the Institute . . . he actually owed them money as well.  The judge decided that since he’d had two teeth removed without the Institute’s permission, Olavson had illegally tampered with their property.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  A 40-year-old woman from Poughkeepsie, NY
  • The Defendant:  Her plastic surgeon
  • The Lawsuit:  The woman had an operation to tighten her stomach in 1979.  When it was over, she realized that her bellybutton was now two and a half inches off center.  She sued for malpractice, claiming “the operation had left a large deformed hole in her stomach and had disrupted her business and her life.”
  • The Verdict:  She was awarded $854,000 by the New York State Supreme Court, and ultimately settled with the doctor for $200,000.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Relatives of a recently deceased man
  • The Defendant:  A Vallejo, California, cemetery
  • The Lawsuit:  At the end of a funeral, cemetery employees realized that the coffin they were about to lower into the ground was too wide for the hole.  They tried turning the coffin on its side, but mourners stopped them.  Then the employees tried breaking off the handles; it didn’t work.  Finally, “they tried to force it by jumping up and down on the lid.”  The coffin broke, and the funeral had to be stopped.  Relatives sued for $500,000.
  • The Verdict:  Settled out of court.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  James Hooper
  • The Defendant:  The Pizza Shuttle
  • The Lawsuit:  Hooper, a 25-year-old Oklahoma State University student, ordered an “extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, black olive, and mushroom pizza” from the Pizza Shuttle.  He sued for $7 in damages because he got “a pizza with something green on it” instead.
  • The Verdict:  The court found in favor of the Pizza Shuttle – and ordered Hooper to pay $57 in court costs.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Frank Zaffere, a 44-year-old Chicago lawyer
  • The Defendant:  Maria Dillon, his 21-year-old ex-fiance
  • The Lawsuit:  When Dillon broke off their engagement in June 1992, Zaffere sued her for $40,310.48 to cover his “lost courting expenses.”  In a letter sent to Dillon, he wrote, “I am still willing to marry you on the conditions herein below set forth:  1)  We proceed with our marriage within 45 days of the date of this letter; 2)  You confirm [that you] . . . will forever be faithful to me; 3)  You promise . . . that you will never lie to me again about anything.”  He closed with:  “Please feel free to call me if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the matters discussed herein.  Sincerely, Frank.”
  • The Verdict:  The case was dismissed.  So was the wedding.  “I can’t imagine telling my children as a bedtime story that Mommy and Daddy got married because of a lawsuit,” Dillon said.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Tmontra Mangrum, a 15-year-old West Palm Beach girl
  • The Defendant:  Marlon Shadd, her 17-year-old prom date
  • The Lawsuit:  Mangrum claimed Shadd stood her up on prom night.  “I talked to him a few days before, and he said he already had his tux and the tickets,” she told reporters.  “I was very upset when he didn’t show up.”  Shadd, on the other hand, insisted he’d called off the date a week before the prom.  “I told her I fractured my ankle,” he said.  Tomontra’s mother filed suit, seeking $49.53 for the cost of the shoes, flowers, and hairdo her daughter had gotten for the prom.
  • The Verdict:  We don’t know (If anyone knows, please write to us)

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Elizabeth M., a nurse from Irvine, California
  • The Defendant:  Her ex-husband
  • The Lawsuit:  In 1991, Mr. M. became a monk.  He filed court papers to have his alimony payment of $739 a month eliminated, since he was no longer earning anything.  Ms. M. argued that her ex-husband’s situation was “no different than if he had simply decided to stop all work and spend the rest of life surfing.”
  • The Verdict:  The ex-husband won the case.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  Frederick Newhall Woods IV, serving a life sentence for the infamous Chowchilla school bus kidnapping
  • The Defendant:  The American Broadcasting Company
  • The Lawsuit:  In 1976, Woods and two accomplices kidnapped a bus driver and 26 elementary school student and buried them underground.  When ABC aired a TV movie docudrama about the kidnapping in 1994, Woods was offended.  He sued the network, claiming that the show “portrayed (him) as being callous, vicious, hardened, wild-eyed, diabolical, and uncaring.”
  • The Verdict:  Case dismissed.

 

  • The Plaintiff:  John M., a 50-year-old Philadelphia teacher
  • The Defendant:  His ex-wife, Maryann, a 46-year-old receptionist
  • The Lawsuit:  One day after her divorce from John became final, Maryann turned in a lottery ticket that was about to expire and won $10.2 million.  Her lawyer claimed that “Lady Luck” led her to find the ticket and turn it in two weeks before it expired.  Her husband said she deliberately waited until after the divorce was final to turn it in.  He sued to get his share.
  • The Verdict:  Unknown – but we’d like to find out.