We live in a sue-happy society where lawsuits are filed every day, many of them frivolous. Some of these cases are so ridiculous they're thrown out of court before they go anywhere, and others become largely popular because the plaintiff really deserves justice. Suing a huge company or corporation is a difficult headache. It's definitely for the brave, and for those with a lot of time. Big corporations rarely give up dragging out court proceedings.
Suing a big company and winning is nearly impossible. They have the best legal team that money can buy, while we often have whoever we can. However, it does happen and sometimes regular people can actually win big. Here are five people who sued big companies and actually won and got justice.
5 Equality For All
This first one isn't the suing of a big company but a suing of a big country. The United States found itself at the center of a court battle regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA enacted in 1996. This act stated that the words marriage and spouse would refer only to a man and a woman.
When Edith Windsor was widowed by her wife Thea Clara Spyer in 2009, she was named the sole executor of the will and estate. They were married in 2007 in Canada and their marriage was legally recognized by the state of New York. Spyer had left everything to Windsor. Unfortunately, their marriage was unrecognized by federal law and Windsor was charged $363,000 worth of taxes. Had the marriage been recognized, these taxes would never have been imposed due to a marriage exemption. Windsor filed a case in a district court with the goal of deeming DOMA unconstitutional.
The suit was filed in 2009 and at the time, the government stance was that DOMA needed to be defended. When the case made it's way to the Supreme Court, the President and Attorney General announced they wouldn't endorse DOMA anymore. The court eventually ruled that DOMA is discriminatory and imposes a disadvantage to same-sex couples.
4 The Bank's Fault
In the middle of the housing crisis in 2009, Warren Nyerges and his wife, Maureen Collier, went through Bank of America to buy a home in Naples, Florida. The couple paid $165,000 cash for a two-bedroom home and didn't even take out a mortgage. It seemed like a done deal. Everything was fine until Bank of America started foreclosure proceedings on their already paid for home one year later for no reason at all.
The couple had to spend $2,500 in legal fees to defend the right to keep their own home. The bank eventually saw their error and dropped the matter. Rightfully so, Nyerges and Collier than asked for Bank of America to reimburse their legal fees but didn't receive any money despite having a court order.
Their lawyer then started official foreclosure proceedings against their local branch, even going so far to send moving trucks and movers. After that Bank of American finally gave a check. They blamed the error on their lack of payment on an outside lawyer not with their company. They finally paid the couple a little more than $5,000. They're lucky they didn't have to pay more for their mistake!
3 A Win For Us All
You may not know the name Friederike Wallentin-Hermann, but you should be forever grateful for her, especially if you travel a lot. She took on a big airline for a basic issue and changed the European airline industry. Her big court case was against European airline Alitalia after they wouldn't refund her for a canceled flight.
Wallentin-Hermann, her husband, and daughter were flying from Vienna, Austria to Brindisi which is in southern Italy, through Rome. However, the first part of their flight was canceled at the last minute. The family then had to take a non-direct flight route with Austrian Airlines. They arrived four hours late in Italy. Their original flight was canceled due to a complex turbine failure and the airline deemed it an exceptional circumstance, meaning it wasn't really their fault. Wallentin-Hermann decided to pursue a small claim for the cost of the flight and for some telephone charges.
Incredibly enough, Alitalia decided to defend themselves in court while most airlines just don't. They don't want or need the bad publicity. Alitalia lost in the Austrian courts when a judge determined that an engine failure is not an "exceptional" circumstance. The judge ruled that as an airline, these mechanical and engineering failures should be expected and routinely screened for. After this ruling, Alitalia appealed and took the case to the higher European Courts where they made the same decision. Wallentin-Hermann was refunded, and now all European customers are due to compensation for canceled flights due to mechanical issues.
2 The Infamous McDonald's Coffee Incident
This lawsuit is well remembered for being ridiculous and is the butt of many jokes. The basis of the story that people think they know is that a woman driving around in her car spilled her hot McDonald's coffee on her lap and burned herself. She, in turn, sued them for a huge amount of money but we all thought she shouldn't have because she should have known the coffee was hot and it is a hazard to drink hot coffee while driving. Right? Wrong! Despite popular belief, this is not what actually happened. Here's the real story.
In 1992, Stella Liebeck was 79 years old and was driven to McDonald's by her grandson. She ordered a coffee and while sitting in their parked car spilled her coffee into her lap. It was 190 degrees which is just short of boiling point. This caused severe 3rd-degree burns to her thighs and genital area. It almost killed her and she needed extensive surgery to heal.
Liebeck didn't even want to go to court at all. She only asked for McDonald's to pay her medical bills which were estimated to be around $20,000. McDonald's offered her $800 which is kind of insulting. She sued for more and eventually received $600,000 and a lot of press. McDonald's also changed the way they heated their coffee and now keep the temperature down to a more reasonable heat. Liebeck's lawsuit was not frivolous and she deserved that money. Also, Liebeck always acknowledged that it was her fault she spilled the coffee, it just wasn't her fault that it was unbearably hot.
1 A Massive Win From Big Tobacco
The most successful lawsuit of one person winning big money comes from 2004. Cynthia Robinson sued major tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds. She was suing on behalf of her husband Michael Johnson who died in 1996 from lung cancer at the age of 36. Johnson had been a smoker since he was 13 and picked up a three pack a day habit as an adult. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1995 and lived for 10 months in constant pain. Almost 10 years later, Robinson started court proceedings for justice.
Robinson sued on the grounds that R.J. Reynolds knew that cigarettes were addictive and could cause lung cancer, but failed to provide proper warnings to their consumers. Surprisingly, she won and was awarded $23.6 billion. Now, we all know the unfortunate side effects of smoking because tobacco companies have to tell us.