- The weirdest legal cases

The world’s weirdest cases

A meticulous collector of amusing and curious anecdotes from the world of law, Professor Gary Slapper’s Case Notes column has long been a staple of The Times’ Law section. His collection of legal oddities is on display in a new column, Weird Cases. As a taster, we asked him to select 20 of his favourite bizarre disputes, prosecutions and lawsuits from the archive.

1. In 2004, Timothy Dumouchel, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin sued a television company for making his wife fat and transforming his children into “lazy channel surfers”. He said: “I believe the reason I smoke and drink every day and my wife is overweight is because we watched the TV everyday for the last four years”. The case kept at least two of America’s then 1,058,662 lawyers occupied for a while, but did not go to the Supreme Court.

2. In 2005, a Brazilian woman sued her partner for failing to give her orgasms. The 31-year old woman from Jundiai asserted in her case that her 38-year old partner routinely ended sexual intercourse after he reached an orgasm. After a promising start the action ended in something of an anticlimax for the claimant when her case was rejected.

3. In 2004, a German lawyer, Dr Juergen Graefe, acted for an elderly pensioner from St Augustin, near Bonn, who was sent a tax demand for €287 million, even though the woman’s income was only €17,000. Dr Graefe fixed the problem with one standard letter to the authorities, but as German law entitles him to calculate his fee based on the amount of the reduction he obtained, his fee came to €440,234 (£308,000). It will be met by the state. There is no evidence that he pushed his luck by writing a thank-you letter.



4. In 1972, at Wakefield Crown Court in Yorkshire, Reginald Sedgwick was prosecuted for stealing Cleckheaton railway station. The defendant, a demolition contractor, was alleged to have destroyed the disused stone building and cleared the site of 24 tons of track with dishonest intentions. He admitted the deed, explained that it was done for an untraced third party, and his lawyer demolished the prosecution’s case, securing an acquittal.

5. In 2005, the Massachusetts Appeals Court was asked to rule on when a sexual technique was dangerous. Early one morning, a man and woman in a long-term relationship were engaged in consensual intercourse. During the passionate event, and, without the man’s consent, the woman suddenly manoeuvred herself in a way that caused him to suffer a penile fracture. Emergency surgery was required. The court ruled that while “reckless” sexual conduct may be actionable, “merely negligent” conduct was not. It dismissed the man’s case.

6. In 2005, Marina Bai, a Russian astrologer, sued NASA for £165 million for “disrupting the balance of the universe”. She claimed that the space agency’s Deep Impact space probe, which was due to hit a comet later that year to harvest material from the explosion, was a “terrorist act”. A Moscow court accepted Russian jurisdiction to hear the claim but it was eventually rejected.

7. In 2007, a court in India was asked to decide whether a vibrating condom is a contraceptive or a sex toy. The condoms contain a battery-operated device, and, for the avoidance of doubt, are marketed as “Crezendo”. Opponents argue it’s a sex toy and thus unlawful in India, whereas the manufacturer says it’s a contraceptive and promotional of public health.

8. In 2006, a young man from Jiaxing, near Shanghai, found himself in legal trouble after failing to take advice before putting his soul up for sale on an online auction site. The posting was eventually removed by the auctioneer and the seller was told that the advert would be reinstated only if he could produce written permission to sell his soul from “a higher authority”.

9. In 2004, Frank D’Alessandro, a court official in New York, sued the city for serious injuries that he sustained when a toilet he was sitting on exploded leaving him in a pile of porcelain. He claimed $5 million compensation. Reflecting on the demanding physical therapy in which he must now engage every morning before work, D’Alessandro declared: “It’s a pain in the ass to do all this stuff.”

10. A Las Vegas law prohibiting strippers from fondling customers during lap dances was ruled by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2006 to be valid. The issue was whether the local law was unconstitutionally vague and therefore unenforceable. The law states that “no attendant or server shall fondle or caress any patron” with intent to arouse him. Lawyers discussed at length whether grinding (of dancers’ bottoms into men’s laps) amounted to a fondle or caress, and whether the brushing of breast into patrons’ faces was prohibited conduct. The local law was declared valid because the court thought enforcers would be able to know a fondle or caress if they saw one.

11. In 1964, the Exchequer Court of Canada was asked to decide whether the expenses of running a “call girl” business in Vancouver were deductible from gross income for the purposes of income tax. The madam and seven call girls were all convicted and imprisoned. And then taxed. Claims for tax deductions in respect of the ordinary parts of the business, such as phone bills, were allowed. Other types of expenses were disallowed because the business couldn’t prove them with receipts, including $2000 for liquor for local officials and $1000 paid to “certain men possessed of physical strength and some guile, which they exercised when set to extricate a girl from difficulties”.

12. In a notorious case heard by Baron Huddleston in November 1884, Captain Thomas Dudley and Edwin Stephens were prosecuted for the murder of a cabin boy, Richard Parker. When the yacht they were sailing from Southampton to Sydney capsized, they found themselves on a dinghy 1,600 miles from shore. After 20 days adrift, they killed Parker, eating his liver and drinking his blood to survive. They were rescued four days later by a German vessel and were convicted of murder at Exeter Assizes, although their death sentences were later commuted to six months imprisonment without hard labour. Their defence of “necessity” was rejected.

13. Cathy McGowan, 26, was overjoyed when a DJ on Radio Buxton told her that she had correctly answered a quiz question and had won the competition prize: a Renault Clio. Ecstasy collapsed into despair, however, when she arrived at the radio station and was presented with a 4-inch model of the car. In 2001, she sued and a judge at Derby County Court ruled that the now defunct station in Derbyshire had entered into a legally binding contract with Miss McGowan and ordered its owners to pay £8,000 for the real vehicle.

14. In 2005, Pavel M., a Romanian prisoner serving 20 years for murder, sued God, founding his claim in contract. He argued that his baptism was an agreement between him and God under which, in exchange for value such as prayer, God would keep him out of trouble..

15. In May, 2004 in Connecticut, Heather Specyalski was charged with the homicide of Neil Esposito. He was thrown from a car that prosecutors said was being driven by Specyalski when it spun out of control and crashed. The defendant argued that she couldn’t have been driving because she was in the passenger seat performing oral sex on Esposito, whom she alleged was at the wheel. Esposito was found with his trousers down but prosecutors argue this could have been because he was “mooning” or urinating out of the car window while in the passenger seat. The jury acquitted Specyalski of manslaughter, sparing her a possible 25-year prison sentence.

16. Sentencing a young woman at the Magistrates’ Court in Port Adelaide, Australia, in 2003, a magistrate said:

“You’re a druggie and you’ll die in the gutter. That’s your choice… I don’t believe in that social worker crap. You abuse your mother and cause her pain. You can choose to be who you are. You can go to work. Seven million of us do it whilst fourteen million like you sit at home watching Days of Our Lives smoking your crack pipes and using needles and I’m sick of you sucking us dry”.

He then concluded:

“It’s your choice to be a junkie and die in the gutter. No one gives a shit, but you’re going to kill that woman who is your mother, damn you to death.”

He gave the woman a prison sentence, unaware that that was unlawful in the type of case in question. Her appeal was successful.

17. In 1874, Francis Evans Cornish, while acting as a magistrate in Winnipeg, Canada, had to try himself on a charge of being drunk in public. He convicted himself and fined himself five dollars with costs. But then he stated for the record: “Francis Evans Cornish, taking into consideration past good behaviour, your fine is remitted”.

18. In 1980, Lord Justice Ormrod, Lord Justice Dunn and Mr Justice Arnold ruled in the UK’s Court of Appeal that a wife from Basingstoke who rationed sex with her husband to once a week was behaving reasonably. Lord Hailsham later revealed that the ruling had provoked some newspapers to try to interview the wives of all the judges in the case.

19. A father from Zhengzhou, in China, was refused legal permission to name his son “@” after the keyboard character. Permission was declined on the legal basis that all names must be capable of being translated into Mandarin.

20. In September, 2004, Judge A K M Patabendige, in Walasmulla, Sri Lanka, jailed a man for a year for yawning in court. N V P Ajith, a defendant in a criminal case, stretched out and yawned in a way that so infuriated the judge, the punishment for contempt was immediate.

Professor Gary Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University. His new book, How the Law Works, is published by HarperCollins

Is no18 the one where Ormerod LJ, a doctor who turned to law after WW2, remarked that between a man and a woman the law should be slow to describe anything as “inordinate”? I served my articles in Basingstoke, as it happens, but I doubt I met the lady.

Richard Spencer, Laggan, Scotland

So funny, it’s refreshing! Can we use them in our law essays?^^

Niels, Cambridge, England

Excellent…!!

Muhammad Munim, london, uk

i love this
very entertaining but educational!

Emily, London,

Case No 12 has a interesting sequel. Either Dudley or Stephens finished his days piloting a ferry across Sydney harbour in New South Wales. Who in their right mind would have embarked on any voyage with one of these two without carrying six months’ supply of food in case the ferry ran aground?

Foss, Perth, Australia

It is a myth, unfortunately. You can’t be convicted of the necessary criminal damage required for arson if you own the property that you damage. It could constitute insurance fraud but in all of the stories I’ve read the man suceeds in his claim against the insurance company – hence no fraud.

Rhydian Hughes, Cardiff, Wales

It is not a myth about the cigars – it is an insurance case and actually happened.
Brilliance!

L, Glasgow, UK

During a perriod in Kuwait a few years ago there was a newspaper article about a hapless, presumably frustrated Egyptian gentleman who was tried for raping a camel. The evidence? The camel was found in a “pretty poor state”.

Bill Peter, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Stewart, I did hear that one but I think he was then countersued for arson, for deliberately buring his expensive cigars, and convicted! Although yes its probably an urban myth, good one though

Antony, Leeds, UK

did you hear the one about the man who insured a box of expensive cigars against damage including fire, then claimed on the insurance after smoking them? fake apparently, but very good.

stewart, glasgow,

it is unbelievable that were all true cases, i thought cases which is going to the court should be rational and reasonable, but anything can just happen anytime and now i believe it.

ginger, bristol, United Kingdom

His middle name could easily be ‘Wet’.

heheh no offence people. All is fun.

Saad Ali Khan, London, UK

at the end of the day though, you ae saying how hard they are being on these slightly minor cases, but take into consideration if they give out such sentences for minor cases these are the kind of judges that will keep the murderers, pedeophiles etc off the streets.

sam wood
age 16.

samantha wood, plymouth, devon

How old is this?
Where’s the Leslie Ash case?
Probably not included because in Britain we were not amused.
Google !

Frank H. , London,

Yes the law is an ass and that addage could not be more appropriate now as more and more legislation is being passed to ‘protect’ our every day living. The problem is that the judges used to test this law and make it applicable to our every day lives, live themselves in bubbles of prejudice situated in ivory towers! Yes, the judge in no 16 should be allowed to have his own personal opinion on drug users, no he should not be allowed to air these in open court as the lives the live compared to us plebs is as remote as an island in the Outer Hebrides.

Michael Hogg, Craigavon, Co. Armagh

Hard to believe the German lawyer got away with that claim.

German legislators should slap themselves.

Mauricio Villablanca, Los Angeles, CA

It is a shame the Profs first name isn’t Rodney.

Phillip Jesson, Melton Mowbray,

Number 16, the Port Adelaide Magistrate and “You’re a druggie and you’ll die in the gutter” is certainly true.

ust Google it and you’ll come up with Magistrate Michael Frederick’s name, and good luck on him for saying it the way it is!

Bill M (Pom), Sydney, Australia

John Arbuckle, Kansas – in your oh-so-insightful comment, you overlook one important factor. For MOST of the cases to have a sexual angle, that would require 11 or more cases. There are 7 with a sexual angle. What we lack in humour, we make up for in maths, hey? Pedantic? Yes. Correct? Oh yes! One more thing – if you don´t like it, stop reading British newspapers!

Danielle , Barcelona, Spain

Case 18 refers to the ”UK’s Court of Appeal”. There is no such thing. Try : The Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Distrust the other ‘facts’.

Mìcheil, Dunfermline,

RE: most of the cases have a sexual angle to it is it a top 20 to humor our british cousins..considering their humor

john arbuckle, kansas,

As opposed to cheesy, in your face and entirely funny American “comedy”?

Emma, Hull, UK

most of the cases have a sexual angle to it is it a top 20 to humor our british cousins..considering their humor

john arbuckle, kansas,

HA ha ha! You just couldn’t make this stuff up could you?

That’s the law for you, as serious as it can be it does give us a goood laugh every now and again

Matthew, Rhondda Cynon Taff,

at least (we) lawyers are most unlikely to end up unemplyed for as long as people (claimants in the above examples) like these are there. ;-)

Mr Slapper I read your book “The English Legal System” in year one of my LLB.

N.A., london, UK

The law can be an ass at times, but where would we be without it? It is we, the people, who make laws and we can also challenge them. I speak from personal experience

Will, Preston, UK

Yes. His full name and title is: Prof. Gary J Slapper

I think he looks like a cross between Harrison Ford and Jerry Springer, and you couldn’t meet a nicer guy.

David, Hunstanton, UK

Not much. Its just the judges deciding wat is right for the parties.

Lilian, KK, Malaysia

What about an ongoing case in Germany, where a 77 year old man is trying to have a teenager prosecuted, because they did not want to have sex with him!

Kelly, london, uk

I lived in Connecticut at the time of the trial in case 15. It doesn’t mention that the woman had a young child who was at risk of being sent into foster care or that the family of the man involved had used influence to force a trial on the grounds that their son wouldn’t have engaged in such behavior with such a woman (he was from a rich family, she was not). As I recall, she was acquitted. The judge, having been a son, allowed that the defense had erected a perfectly plausible defence.

J, Poughkeepsie, NY

Phil Roberts – Sorry but the child falling over in furniture store case is an urban legend.

The case of the woman suing McDonalds for coffee that was too hot is a true one though.

Peter Jones, Southampton,

There was a US court who upheld a claim for damages from a woman who fell over a child in a furniture store and the store found guilty of not controlling persons in their store…… and it was the woman’s child.

Is there a relationship between common law and common sense?

Phil Roberts, kelsall, cheshire

Don’ t know, but suggest someone sues someone for incitement to slap persons named Gary.

Hello, Birmingham,

I’ve heard he looks like a cross between Richard Gere and Harrison Ford…

Simon, Manchester,

Yep, he`s an adult – but not an actor. Lol guys, Yes the name is real.

As the folks who read the `real` paper would say that professor Slapper is a good looking guy too. I seen the photo.

Clever, good looking and hilarious..who could ask for more?

Blendi Progri, london, UK

Yep, he`s an adult – but not an actor. Lol guys, Yes the name is real.

As the folks who read the `real` paper would say that professor Slapper is a good looking guy too. I seen the photo.

Clever, good looking and hilarious..who could ask for more?

Blendi, london, UK

The sad part, at least in the USA, is those who bring such silly suits – because they have the funds to do so – tie-up the courts systems while those who do not have the funds (and often have serious grounds for suits) are denied judicial hearings.

What say the readers of an adult male, disabled through the negligent actions of government officials, attempting to retrain through university enrolment?

The man speaks-up in defense of young female classmates being abused by a male instructor (at the girls’ request) who is, himself, making light of rape.

At semester end he attempts to apply for (needed) financial aid and is denied by university officials due to his ‘whistleblowing’ – thus ending his academic career, leaving him to begin early repayment of education loans, thousands of dollars in-debt (these same officials coerced him to incur) and only a low paying part-time job with which to begin repayment.

Then the judicial branch of govt denies him legal action.

Larry, Middletown, USA/NY

This list should include that famous conversation between a lawyer and a coroner:
“Was the individual dead?”
“Yes, he was”
“How did you know?”
“Because I had his brain sitting in a tray in front of me”.
“In that case, could he be alive?”
“Well, I supose he could be alive and practicing law somewhere else, yes.”
I’m sorry I cannot recall where exactly this happened, but I think it was either a US court or a Spanish one. Remarkable conversation, anyway.

Pablo, cambridge, USA

Gary Slapper . . . . enough said!

Seb, Oxford,

Oh yes. I remember him from Staffordshire Uni in the early 90′s – nice guy!

Stephanie, Skipton, North Yorkshire

Might one say of the Brazilian decision (No. 2 above) that it flopped as a result of pre-mature adjudication?

David , Saint John, Canada

The name (in my crude opinion) sounds like it should belong to an adult film actor!

seth taylor, newcastle, uk

Is the name Gary Slapper real?

Richard, London,

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