"Prolific litigant" bought $40 used printer then sued seller for $30,000

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Doug Costello, 66, sold a printer on craigslist for $40. The buyer—described as a “prolific, abusive litigant”—alleged it was broken and sued him claiming astronomical damages. The resulting artisanal interstate legal snarl has cost Costello $12,000 so far. USA Today reports on a mess that’s still not over after 7 years.

The printer’s buyer was Gersh Zavodnik, a 54-year-old Indianapolis man known to many in the legal community as a frequent lawsuit filer who also represents himself in court. The Indiana Supreme Court said the “prolific, abusive litigant” has brought dozens of lawsuits against individuals and businesses, often asking for astronomical damages. Most, according to court records, involve online sales and transactions.

Small claims court wasn’t interested, but Zavodnik’s pro se actions were relentless. Even though they were insane, that’s the point: Costello’s failure to respond meant a default verdict for the plaintiff.

Zavodnik also had sent Costello two more requests for admissions. One asked Costello to admit that he conspired with the judge presiding over the case, and that he was liable for more than $300,000. Another one requested Costello to admit that he was liable for more than $600,000.

And so was necessitated the hiring of very expensive lawywers. Zavodnik appears to be a master of plinking the legal system until he shops his way to a useful-enough judge.

Wuertz said the case went through several Marion County judges, many of whom recused themselves. At one point, Zavodnik sought to have a judge removed, and the Supreme Court appointed a special judge from Boone County. Finally, in March 2015 — six years after Costello sold the printer — Special Judge J. Jeffrey Edens issued a ruling. He awarded Zavodnik a judgment of $30,044.07 for breach of contract.

The ruling was overturned on appeal: “the trial court abused its discretion,” wrote Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, issuing an award “with no basis in reality” using logic that “would have granted Zavodnik a judgment for $600,000, or $6,000,000, or $60,000,000, if Zavodnik had simply linked such an amount to the phrase “for breaching the legally binding contract.””

Seven years of this.

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