A Stella award is a roughly distant multiple-times-removed cousin of the Darwin award. Whereas a Darwin is given either posthumously or otherwise after one is rendered incapable of reproduction by some astoundingly random act of stupidity, a Stella is given to a plaintiff in a frivolous lawsuit, as sort of a back-handed-with-a-rock-inside 'thank you' for tying up the courts with their drivel.

Before I go on: IANAL. I also don't work for Randy Cassingham, who publishes the Stella Awards in the form of a mailing list. It is off of Mr. Cassingham's material that I base much of this writeup, in fact.

Additional note: Randy publishes the Stellas as a project of This Is True. This is my own take on it - hopefully it pays sufficient homage. =)

The name's etymology is, admittedly, unfortunate. It stems from The McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit - one Stella Liebeck had spilled dangerously hot coffee in her lap at McDonalds, and sued - and, in fact, won. While on the surface this seems frivolous, there are many more circumstances surrounding the case in the aforementioned writeup, thus justifying her complaint for the most part. (She was found by the jury to be 20% at fault, whereas the rest of the liability was on McDonalds - especially since 180 deg. F liquids are considered hazardous.) All that being said however, the media painted her as the key example of a frivolous lawsuit filer, and the name (regretfully for her) stuck.

Previously, the Stella has been offered to many a mythical suit. You've probably heard about them:

* The man who set his Winnebago RV into cruise control and went in back to make a sandwich

* The woman who sued $a_retail_store because her own child proved to be a tripping hazard that she herself tripped over

Things like those cases which are circulated constantly over email as (bogus) examples of why are courts here in the United States are screwed up. (To note, in those emails, the plaintiffs invariably win an incredible amount of money in damages, and they are invariably new cases year after year. They are also, as previously suggested, not true, and considered by many to have achieved urban legend status.)

Naturally, this isn't to say that our courts here in the USA aren't screwed up. They are, frankly. In case you have been living under a rock, the country is rife with people who feel entitled to anything for nothing because they can't possibly be at fault for their own mishaps, and some of these people will indeed sue to get their way. And it is these types who are the intended recipients of the Stella.

That being said, this isn't discouragement to actually sue somebody. If you are, indeed, truly entitled to something and you need to bring it to a judge and/or a jury because the party who is indebted to you won't pony up, by all means, do so - that's why we have a court system in place. Use small claims court, or contact your attorney.

So who qualifies? Well, honestly, anybody who files a truly frivolous lawsuit. A few true examples:

* Cole Bartiromo, a high school student, is found guilty of stock fraud by the SEC. As a result, he is removed from his high school baseball team. He decided that this ruined his chances of garnering a career in Major League Baseball, so he sues the school district. The disposition of this case is unknown, but he was later arrested in the third quarter of 2003 for fraud, after asking a teller in an Orange County branch of a particular major bank to just give him a large sum of money from an account holder's account for gambllng purposes, with a promise to return the money later and cut the teller some of the proceeds. (Originally from issue 28 on 21May2003)

* One student was to be a co-valedictorian of her graduating high school class, and she didn't much like this 'co' part - see, as a result of her being exempt from the Physical Education unit due to physical disability, she had a somewhat higher GPA, ergo she, by extension, should be the only valedictorian. So, she sued for sole valedictorianship. This gained her much notariety for her action, and as a result of this she didn't attend her own graduation. In her hubris, she apparently overlooked the fact that she didn't cite much of her homework, and in fact it was found that some of it was plagiarized - resulting in the loss of a full scholarship to Harvard. Disposition was simple - the district settled for $60,000 for damages. Yes, sixty paltry thousand because the school ruined her life. (Issue 27, 07May2003, update in issues 31, 36, and 40; see also 41, where it indicates she could also be liable for taxes on the proceeds)

* A man sues various and sundry fast food chains, claiming that they should have made him aware that continually eating fast food was indeed not healthy. This case was ultimately dismissed with prejudice - the judge determined that they actually did provide sufficient warning in the form of published and widely available nutrition facts. (Issue 17, 22Jan2003)

There are many more, but the writeup here is not for the purpose; besides, you can go over to http://www.stellaawards.com and you'll find more examples anyway. (Yeah, I know, I'm shilling for Randy. So sue me. No, wait, don't. Please.)

EDIT, 07Sep2004 - Randy likes it! Though, despite this, he notes he's not as sympathetic to Ms. Liebeck as I let on. To be frank, neither am I, given the other circumstances beyond what are listed here. My stance since this happened has always been that it's just dumb to have an open cup of coffee between your knees. I'm just sympathetic to what happened in the end, that she became the poster child for such an award. See, I'm inclined to believe that she was led into this by attorneys - but that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

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