George H. Blackford, Ph.D.

 Economist at Large

 Email: george(at)


It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble.

It’s what you know for sure that just ain't so.
Attributed to Mark Twain (among others)


Economic Papers
Political Essays



On Stella Award Emails


I received yet another Stella Awards email today which is contained below.  I am very much in favor of sending these emails around in that they provide striking examples of the kind of nonsense contained in right-wing propaganda, but they should be sent out with a disclaimer to the effect that they are not true, and links to websites (such as or that documents the dishonesty contained in these emails should also be included when they are sent out.

They should also contain a link (such as this one, that provides some factual information on the Stella Liebeck case. 

Corporation make a cost-benefit calculation when they decide how far they can go in cutting corners on consumer safety and in promoting dangerous products as they attempt to maximize their profits, and an important part of that calculation is how much consumers can get if they are able to sue.  Capping the damages in lawsuits makes it easier for them to cut corners and to promote products (such as Vioxx, that they know are dangerous, and emails like this one are designed to encourage your support in their efforts to get legislators to enact these caps. 

I think people should ask themselves, “What do I have to gain in supporting the efforts to cap these damages?”  For most people, not much, and if they are ever harmed in the way Stella was, they have a lot to loose.




It's time    again for the annual 'Stella Awards'! For those unfamiliar with these awards,    they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on    herself and successfully sued the McDonald's in New    Mexico , where she purchased coffee. You remember, she took the    lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving. Who    would ever think one could get burned doing that, right? That's right; these    are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. You know, the kinds of cases that make you    scratch your head. So keep your head scratcher    handy.



Here are the    Stellas for year -- 2013:




Kathleen Robertson    of Austin, Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her    ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The    store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the    running toddler was her own son.


Start    scratching!





Carl    Truman, 19, of Los Angeles , California won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his    neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn't    notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal    his neighbor's hubcaps. 


 Scratch    some more...




Terrence    Dickson, of Bristol , Pennsylvania , who was leaving a house he had just    burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic    garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open.    Worse, he couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage    to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut. Forced to sit for eight,    count 'em, EIGHT days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry    dog food, he sued the homeowner's insurance company claiming undue mental    Anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson    $500,000 for his anguish. We should all have this kind of anguish.  Keep    scratching. There are more...


Double    hand scratching after this one..  




Jerry Williams, of Little    Rock, Arkansas, garnered 4th Place in the Stella's when he was awarded $14,500    plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door    neighbor's beagle - even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner's    fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury    believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite    because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot    the dog with a pellet gun.


Pick a    new spot to scratch, you're getting a bald    spot..




Amber Carson of Lancaster , Pennsylvania because a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant    to pay her $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her    tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it    at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an    argument.


 Only two more so ease up    on the scratching...




Kara Walton, of Claymont ,    Delaware sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from    the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even    though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid    paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her    $12,000....oh, yeah, plus dental expenses. Go figure.


Ok. Here we    go!!


* FIRST PLACE    *  


This year's runaway First    Place Stella Award winner was: Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City ,    Oklahoma , who purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip    home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the    cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go to the back    of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motor home    left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs.    Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner's manual that she    couldn't actually leave the driver's seat while the cruise control was set.    The Oklahoma jury awarded her, are you sitting    down?


$1,750,000 PLUS a new    motor home. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit,    just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor    home.


If you    think the USA court system is out of control, be    sure to pass this one on.

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