20 Strange Sports Lawsuits
Most lawsuits are so ordinary and mundane that their existence outside a courtroom isn’t exactly newsworthy. Although frivolous claim stories seem to be a winner among the general public, who enjoy the feeling of superiority they provide, with 15 million civil cases filed annually in the U.S., it’s almost impossible to keep up.
Naturally, the sports world sees its share of interesting and strange lawsuits. With billions of dollars in play and the ever-present potential of personal injury looming large, it’s a fertile ground for the most litigious among us. You know the type—those who love nothing more than getting something for nothing.
Add to that the emotional investment people have in their teams and there’s the very real (imagined) threat of inflicting long-term emotional distress. Violate their right to be happy, healthy and comfortable at all times, and a team or league could easily find itself on the business end of a very strange lawsuit.
And it goes both ways. Fans get a lot of flak for this sort of thing, but fans have, on occasion, found themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by a sports league or team. The major difference is that they often don’t have the kind of money required to fight it out in court.
That’s not to say all strange sports lawsuits are frivolous, or all frivolous lawsuits are strange—they’re not. But the ones that meet at that entertaining cross section tend to make the most headlines.
Here are some of the strangest sports lawsuits yet.
Johnny Manziel Targeted by $25 Million Hoax
In May 2014 a lawsuit that could only be described as absolutely insane was filed against Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. The suit, which was (fraudulently) filed on behalf of CNN contributor Samantha Schacher, alleged a lot of private part misbehavior on the part of Manziel.
Because it was soon discovered to be and dismissed as a hoax, getting into the particulars would just be gratuitous—though not quite as gratuitous as the $25 million in damages the “prankster” was seeking for “emotional distress.” Talk about strange.
Courtside Fan Sues for Courtside Encounter
Back in 2005 Memphis Grizzlies fan Bill Geeslin was sitting courtside during a home win over the Los Angeles Lakers. At some point during the game Kobe Bryant took a tumble into the crowd while chasing down a loose ball.
Geeslin allegedly suffered a bruised lung cavity and decided to sue Bryant for “intentionally forearm[ing]” him in the chest, before glaring at him and walking away without apologizing. Geeslin was deposed in 2008 but died two months later at the age of 49.
Following Geeslin’s death, his family decided to move forward with the suit, which sought an “amount exceeding $75,000.” It moved slowly through the legal system for another four years before Bryant finally decided to settle out of court in August 2012.
Though it does seem Geeslin’s injuries were legit, courtside tickets at an NBA game are very expensive and you’re basically paying for the opportunity to be in on the action. It’s strange to sue after getting exactly what you paid for.
Fans Sue over Two-Year-Old Fight, Seek Damages for Future Pain and Suffering
In December 2008 Colorado brothers Andrew and Mario Hehr were in Houston and decided to attend the Texans vs. Bears game at Reliant Stadium. At some point during the game they were involved in a physical altercation with unknown, drunken fans.
Two years later they filed a lawsuit against Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, which manages Reliant, alleging they “encouraged the use of alcohol prior to the game at a tailgate party held in the parking lot and failed to provide adequate security for the event,” per the Houston Press.
The details were surprisingly scarce, with the Hehr brothers asking for “medical offenses incurred after the fight and any expenses in the future to be covered,” in addition to compensation for physical pain and suffering, both past and future.
Naturally, the lawsuit made no mention of any conduct on their part that may have instigated the fight or name any of the “unruly fans” who supposedly threatened them by name. Let only he with the deepest pockets be named!
Niners Fan Puts High Price on Missed Playoff Game
In April 2014 San Francisco 49ers fan Joe E. Williams III filed a $50 million lawsuit against the NFL with the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The suit accuses the league of conspiring with the Seahawks, Ticketmaster and Washington State officials to enact an “unconstitutional” selective sales policy that amounts to “economic discrimination,” per The Associated Press via ESPN.com.
According to CBS San Francisco, “Tickets to the game were limited to people with billing addresses in California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of Canada.” Since Williams was in Nevada, he was unable to buy tickets and a few months later decided that infringed on his constitutional right to...buy playoff tickets?
For his tremendous suffering, Williams was (and likely still is) seeking $10 million in punitive damages on top of $40 million in real damages. Well, what’s fair is fair.
Jets Fan with an Ax to Grind Sues Patriots over Spygate
In April 2010 the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard arguments in the case of Carl Mayer, a grudge-holding New York Jets fan who filed suit against the division-rival New England Patriots three years earlier for secretly videotaping the Jets coaches during a game at Giants Stadium in 2007.
Mayer was seeking $185 million in damages for Jets fans alone, whom he said spent large amounts of money on tickets to see games that were essentially rigged, per an AP report. Ultimately, the appellate court sided with the lower court’s assertion that Mayer had failed to prove he had any legal right to damages.
In June 2014, obviously undeterred by legal losses, Mayer—who it probably won’t surprise you to learn is a lawyer—announced his intention to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. So...yeah...that’s a thing that will be happening.
Fan Claims Corey Crawford Has Toxic Backwash
In May 2014 it was reported that Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was being investigated over an “assault” a Los Angeles Kings fan claimed he had suffered at Crawford’s hand. Well, it wasn’t really his hand—per TMZ Sports.
Clark Wong filed battery charges against Crawford for allegedly spraying him with a water bottle as he was ejected during the third period of Game 4 against the Kings. Per Fox Sports West, Wong insisted “the water bottle contained backwash and caused serious irritation to his eyes” and claimed he required medical attention.
At this point, a lawsuit has not been filed against Crawford, but Wong’s claims seem to be setting the stage for something like that. However, he’ll have a hard time playing the victim in court, considering he was later ejected from the game for taunting.
NFL Sues M.I.A.
Last fall The Hollywood Reporter reported that the NFL filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., who infamously flipped the bird during her halftime appearance at Super Bowl XLVI. Records at the American Arbitration Association revealed the initial suit was filed in March 2012—18 months after the performance.
Despite the FCC not filing a complaint for the incident, in March 2014 it was revealed that the NFL decided to up the ante and is now seeking $16 million in compensatory damages. M.I.A. took the fight public because, according to her attorney Howard King via Fox Sports, he and his client have “decided not to let the lawsuit live in secrecy because he wants to highlight the NFL’s hypocrisy in filing the suit in the first place.”
In June, Fox Sports’ Sam Gardner published a great piece on the “laughable” lawsuit, listing a number of hilarious hypocritical acts. It’s just strange because the NFL doesn’t need the money and you wouldn’t think the league want the bad press, but apparently it does.
Which is why players are routinely fined and suspended for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse, but Colts owner Jim Irsay is free to drive around high as a kite with tens of thousands of dollars in his car, with no action from the NFL.
Cowboys Fan Sues over Burned Buttocks
In August 2012 Jennelle Carrillo filed suit against the Dallas Cowboys and team owner Jerry Jones for severe burns she suffered to her butt while sitting on a bench outside a scrimmage in August 2010. Burns so severe she waited a full 24 months to take legal action.
ESPN.com reported on the lawsuit: “The bench was uncovered and openly exposed to the extremely hot August sun. The combination of the black, marble bench and hot sunlight caused the bench to become extremely hot and unreasonably dangerous.”
Carrillo’s attorney claimed she suffered “mental anguish, physical pain and disfigurement as a result of her wounds.” Though Carrillo didn’t even realize she was injured at first, her lawyer said she was later hospitalized for "about a week," per CBS DFW.
Penguins Fan Sues over Texts, Rather Than Unsubscribing
In May 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins fan Fred Weiss filed a class-action complaint against team ownership because he was unhappy with the number of texts he’d received after deliberately signing up for the updates.
According the Consumerist, Weiss, a resident of California, claimed the number of texts sent exceeded the maximum of three alerts per week. And instead of unsubscribing from the text alerts, which he never attempted to do, he decided to sue the Penguins.
The damages Weiss was seeking were unspecified, which is fine as he’s unlikely to ever see any money on such a bogus claim.
Saints Fan Sues Roger Goodell for ‘Dictatorial Interference’
In October 2012 Louisiana resident David Mancina filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, “seeking damages in excess of $5 million on behalf of himself and 2012-13 New Orleans Saints season-ticket holders,” per The Times-Picayune.
The suit alleged fans purchased tickets “expecting the Saints would be capable of competitively fielding a contending team comprised of the finest athletes, and the best coaches, under contract...or available to them through normal trades and draft choices, without dictatorial, unreasonable, vindictive, and unfounded, interference.”
As fantastic and fun as publicly calling out Goodell for being a dictator must have been for Mancina, his dreams of reaping any financial rewards were dashed when a federal judge dismissed the suit in January 2013.
Tiger Woods Fan Sues PGA over Tiger Costume
In 2010 Jason Goodwin wore a ridiculous tiger costume to the TPC Boston tournament, which was supposedly some sort of homage to his favorite player, Tiger Woods. Although he claimed he got “pre-permission” to wear the costume, per TMZ.com, Goodwin was ejected from the tournament because Angel Cabrera, Tiger’s playing partner, complained it was “too bright and bothersome.”
A year later Goodwin filed a lawsuit against the PGA in Boston, who had—according to him—infringed upon his civil rights by ejecting him. He sought $7,150 in damages, because that was the limit allowed in small-claims court. It’s unclear how the whole thing turned out, but Goodwin probably won since we all know dressing up like a tiger at a golf tournament is protected in the Bill of Rights.
Hostile Heat Fan Sues Spurs for Sitting Stars
In January 2013 a hilariously litigious Miami Heat fan named Larry McGuinness filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that San Antonio “Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ‘intentionally and surreptitiously’ sent their best players home without knowledge of the league, the team and fans attending the Nov. 29 game in Miami,” per ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell.
McGuinness, of the Miami law firm McGuinness and Gonzalez, claimed the Spurs violated Florida’s deceptive and fair trade practices law by sending Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green home to rest, rather than play them against the Heat.
The disappointment was understandable—the lawsuit, not so much. Perhaps realizing he’d acted on emotion rather than a legally actionable complaint, less than three months later McGuinness filed notice in Miami-Date Circuit Court, which voluntarily dismissed the case. Although he spoke about his reasons for filing the lawsuit, McGuinness did not comment on the dismissal.
Sluggerrr's Hot Dog Mishap
In June 2014 the Missouri Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Kansas City Royals fan who was injured by a flying hot dog, per an AP report.
John Coomer claims he was injured at a Royals game in 2009 when the mascot threw a wrapped hot dog into the crowd, which hit him in the eye. He filed a lawsuit seeking $20,000-plus in damages.
In earlier legal proceedings, it was ruled that the team was protected by a legal standard that prevents it from being sued over various fan injuries, but the Supreme Court ruled that a mascot throwing a hot dog was outside the scope of protection.
Incarcerated Steelers Fan Files Amazing Handwritten Lawsuit
In December 2013 the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the postseason in heartbreaking fashion. Playing on the road in San Diego, they needed the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Chargers in order to make the postseason. The game went into overtime and ended with an officiating comedy of errors in which the Chargers wound up on top.
It was a tough break for the Steelers, who were unforgivably bad early in the season and lost at least two games they should have won. As a Pittsburgh fan, I can say with certainty that most of us recognized that harsh reality as soon as the disappointment and disdain for the bad officiating wore off.
That being said, one fan couldn't accept what happened. According to The Baltimore Sun, a week later Daniel Spuck filed a motion against the NFL to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, seeking a “temporary emergency injunction” on the grounds that the missed call in Week 17 meant the Chargers shouldn’t be in the playoffs.
In an epic handwritten motion, Spuck, an inmate within the Pennsylvania corrections department, even offered up some possible “remedies” for the missed call, one of which was delaying the start of the playoffs so that the Steelers and Chargers could play at a neutral site to determine who moves on.
Clippers Fan Sues over 'Spam' Text
In December 2013 Los Angeles Clippers fan (assuming you can call someone who files a frivolous lawsuit against his team a “fan”) Ari Friedman filed suit against the team for spamming his phone. And apparently his time is very valuable, because the class-action lawsuit was seeking $5 million in damages.
According to the complaint, Friedman alleged he participated in a game at the Staples Center that asked fans to send a text message to the team, which may or may not get posted on the arena’s scoreboard. He also claimed the Clippers promised not to share contact information or send return text messages, per a report by TMZ Sports.
After the game Friedman said he received a text message, which somehow he (allegedly) traced back to the Clippers and cost him several cents. Oh, well then a $5 million lawsuit makes plenty of sense!
Texas A&M Sues Double Amputee for Trademark Infringement
Yes, you read that headline correctly. In July 2014 Deadspin reported that Texas A&M, which trademarked the term “12th Man” back in 1990, was ready, willing and able to take legal action against any perceived “threats” to its...property?
In this case the “threat” is Charles Sonntag, a Buffalo man who co-founded 12thManThunder.com, a website aimed at keeping the Bills in town. The Aggies have threatened legal action against Sonntag, a double amputee and cancer survivor who also suffers from Albright’s disease, for infringing on the “12th Man.”
Sonntag can’t afford litigation, so he agreed to change the name to avoid the hassle. But according to The Buffalo News, Sonntag—again, a double amputee—didn’t act fast enough. University spokesman Shane Hinkley said the changeover has taken “several weeks” and did not dismiss the possibility of future legal action.
Texas A&M successfully sued the Seattle Seahawks years back, resulting in a licensing agreement that allowed the Seahawks to use the phrase. It was totally fair and made sense. Suing Sonntag, who has been agreeable and makes $5,000 extra per year by letting cars park on his property before home games, is the complete opposite of that.
Redskins Sue 72-Year-Old Season Ticket Holder into Bankruptcy
In September 2009 The Washington Post reported on 72-year-old real estate agent and grandmother Pat Hill, a lifelong Redskins fan who had season tickets since the early 1960s. That was back "when her daughter danced in the halftime shows at the old D.C. Stadium, before it was renamed in memory of Robert F. Kennedy."
Hill’s income took a major hit when the housing market crashed, and she asked the ’Skins to wave her $5,300-per-year contract for two loge seats behind the end zone for a year or two. Seems like a fairly reasonable request.
Instead of reasonably denying Hill’s reasonable request, the team sued her for “backing out of a 10-year ticket-renewal agreement after the first year." The team also sought payments for every season through 2017, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and court costs. She couldn’t afford a lawyer, so the Redskins won a default judgment of $66,364.
During the interview with the Post, Hill was in tears discussing the possibility of bankruptcy and said, “It really breaks my heart. I don’t even believe in bankruptcy. We are supposed to pay our bills. I ain’t trying to get out of anything.”
Wow. It’s like the only thing the Redskins are good at, on and off the field, is being terrible.
Insane Fan Who Attacked Tie Domi Sues Tie Domi
In March 2001 one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ craziest fans climbed into the penalty box to fight Toronto Maple Leafs notorious enforcer Tie Domi. It was one of the more ill-advised decisions in the history of sports fans making ill-advised decisions.
Christopher Falcone was among the fans at First Union Center who were harassing Domi with verbal taunts, but he was the only one with the stones to run the beef up the flagpole. His sweater was pulled up over his head, but officials stepped in before things escalated.
That didn’t stop Falcone from escalating things two years later, when he filed a lawsuit against Domi, the Maple Leafs, the NHL and Comcast-Spectator Inc., which owns the Flyers and First Union Center. According to his lawyer per ESPN.com, Falcone “suffered a gash on his forehead and ‘got the heck beat out of him, went to the hospital, had not a lot of treatment, but somebody has to pay for it.’”
If somebody has to pay for it, how about the fan who climbed over the partition during an NHL game for the sole purpose of attacking a member of the opposing team? Just a thought.
Sad, Sleeping Yankees Fan Sues...Everyone
In July 2014 a comically litigious New York Yankees fan filed an epic $10 million defamation suit against ESPN announcers Dan Shulman and John Kruk. Twenty-six-year-old Andrew Rector was shown slumped over and sleeping, mouth agape, in the stands during a recent game against the Red Sox.
According to The Smoking Gun, “Shulman referred to the sleeping fan as ‘oblivious,’ while Kruk, the network’s color commentator, noted the ballpark was ‘not the place you come to sleep.’ Which are both pretty reasonable observations, given the circumstances.
TSG continues, “In his complaint, which was filed this month in the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, Rector contends that he was subjected to an ‘unending verbal crusade’” by the network’s announcers. The lawsuit also names the Yankees and Major League baseball as defendants.
If Rector thought comments were vicious before, wait until he reads the ones on articles about this ridiculous lawsuit and his assertion that he suffered “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Those are going to strike a serious blow to his already fragile self-esteem.
Bulls Fan Sues Derrick Rose for Making Him Obese
In April 2013 one Chicago Bulls fan took his dismay over Derrick Rose’s extended absence (due to a significant knee injury) to a whole new level. Actually, a “whole new low” is a more accurate classification of what went on there.
Peoria, Illinois, native Matthew Thompson, a 25-year-old electrician, filed a lawsuit that claimed “Rose’s season-long absence caused him to have mental breakdowns and emotional distress, leading to obesity issues,” per CSN Chicago.
Thompson even claimed negligence on Rose’s part, because the star point guard opted not to return immediately after being cleared to play by doctors. There's no word on the specific damages Thomas was seeking or exactly how much weight he gained, but it’s safe to say this was laughed out of court.