5 quirky Thanksgiving-related lawsuits

In which some perfectly expected--and some unexpected--holiday lawsuits occur.

Thanksgiving is a day when Americans give thanks, most likely for their families, friends, and the blessings they’ve enjoyed during the past year. But some might also be thankful that they weren’t involved in any of these rather peculiar Thanksgiving-related lawsuits:

#1: Turkey hunting gone terribly wrong

In 2003, Neil P. Jacobs and James Kent went turkey hunting together in a wooded area in New York. After hearing gobbling noises and seeing a flash of red, Kent fired into the underbrush, but instead of bagging a turkey, he accidently shot Jacobs, who sued Kent for negligence, making the legal argument that turkey hunters must be able to see the entire bird as well as determine its gender before firing off a shot.

Although Kent moved to dismiss the complaint based on assumption of risk, the Court ruled that although hunters assume the risks of hunting for sport, they reasonably should not have to assume the risk of negligent behavior on the part of other hunters.

#2: No turkey bones about it

Helen Silva was enjoying a meal of turkey, dressing, and vegetables at a Woolworth’s restaurant in 1938 when she choked on a small turkey bone, which was removed with the help of a bystander. Silva sued Woolworth’s for injuries, embarrassment, and medical fees of $36, and received a judgment of $500 for general damages.

This award was later reversed when an Appellate Court found that because a turkey bone is natural to a plate a roast turkey, a consumer of the turkey dish should anticipate its presence and take care to avoid swallowing such bones.

#3: No copying allowed?

In 2010, a Texas federal court was asked to look into whether copying the directions regarding how to cook a turkey is a copyright violation. Greenberg Smoked Turkeys sold turkeys with some simple cooking instructions included on the packaging, and also posted those directions online. Later, the company found out that these same or similar directions were on the Goode-Cook (a direct competitor of Greenberg’s) website, which prompted the lawsuit. The claim was subsequently dismissed.

#4: Golden Ponds Thanksgiving legacy

The Golden Ponds Restaurant and Party House was the scene of perhaps the largest outbreak of foodborne illness in Rochester, New York. On Thanksgiving Day 2016, more than 1,000 people ate their holiday buffet dinner at the restaurant, but within 24 hours, many experienced stomach pain, cramping, and diarrhea thanks to bacteria-tainted gravy that had been stored and served at too low a temperature.

Of the 306 people sickened by the food, many suffered life-threatening illnesses. Many were hospitalized, one underwent emergency surgery, some continue to struggle with their health, and 31 were parties to a lawsuit that was settled in mediation last year. The restaurant, which had operated for more than 30 years, closed in 2017 and was demolished several months ago. 

#5: Summer vs. autumn value of a turkey

When a freight train killed ten turkeys that were being raised to sell for Thanksgiving, owner H.S. Nolen filed a suit to recover damages. However, since the incident occurred in August, questions of market value at the time of death came up. The court ruled that damages would only be awarded for cold-cut value, given their month of death.

Enjoy your (hopefully) lawsuit-free holiday and stay safe this Thanksgiving!

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