While ridiculous sounding lawsuits are common in our litigious society, some stand out because they sound so preposterous they could have been the plot of a “Seinfeld” episode.
For example, in 2019 an infamous Long Island attorney nicknamed the “Vanilla Vigilante,” sued Whole Foods for $5 million, claiming the store’s vanilla soy milk is flavored with ingredients in addition to vanilla. The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) highlights this case and others as part of Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week (October 5-9).
Food disappointments appear to be a common theme among these suits:
- A December 2019 complaint filed in federal court alleged a Panera blueberry bagel purchased in Manhattan didn’t contain blueberries but “dyed lumps.” The complaint argues that the bagel’s advertising breached the New York Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices law, among others.
- A May 2020 lawsuit contends that Haagen-Dasz milk chocolate coated ice cream bars should be labeled as milk chocolate and vegetable oil coated chocolate bars. The company says vegetable oil is used as an ingredient to help overcome the difficulties of applying a coating of chocolate to ice cream; the oil is not otherwise included in milk chocolate.
- A June 2020 lawsuit against a snack food manufacturer alleges the “potato skin snacks” do not contain potato skins but potato starch and potato flakes.
Such cases are fun to laugh about, but increasing willingness of plaintiffs to bring suits of all kinds – and of juries to pay out large settlements, known as “nuclear verdicts” – feeds the phenomenon of social inflation, which drives up claims costs for insurers and premiums for policyholders.
ATRA warns that a wave of such lawsuits is expected against businesses as they reopen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.