The Stuff of Urban Legends

The mythology of our modern age takes shape and place in the form of urban legends, nurtured at warp speed on the Internet and taken as gospel by many, passed along like chain letters without much regard for fact-checking. They say if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and the same advice would apply to stories that sound too off-the-wall to be believed. However, in the case of Wanda Hudson of Dauphin Island, Alabama, a legend-like tale is a matter of record in a court of law.

Solitary Confinement

Ms. Hudson, then 44 years old, had rented a storage unit after losing her home to foreclosure in 2001. When the manager of Parkway Storage noticed her unit door slightly ajar as he was closing up late one night, he closed it and snapped the padlock shut. Ms. Hudson survived on canned food and fruit juice for the next 63 days until a fellow storage unit renter heard her crying for help and called the authorities.

Mitigating Circumstances

When she taken to the hospital, Ms. Hudson weighed in at just 85 lbs., down 65 from the start of her ordeal. Doctors determined that she was, in fact, in the advanced stages of starvation (a rare case for American medical professionals). Ms. Hudson sued the storage company, seeking $10 million in damages. She won the case, but was awarded “only” $100,000 in damages.

The storage company argued in court that Ms. Hudson had been living – or at least sleeping – in the storage unit at the time of the inadvertent lock-in and thus was in violation of the terms of her lease. Perhaps she would have received a larger amount if she had not been so vague as to her reasons for being in the storage unit in the middle of the night. The defense didn’t prevail, but it certainly mitigated the damages in one of the most bizarre cases ever to be presented before a judge.