Diana Dares

Foiling Chicanery with Boundless Intelligence, Fashionable Outfits, Moxie, and One Sporty Blue Roadster.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

People Are Awesome, Pt 1

Tom, my brother in law school, helped me out tremendously the other night. I'm writing a spec for a legal show, and needed ridiculous tort cases. I asked him if he knew of any; here's his reply:

Here are some of my favorite cases from Tort class last year. Because torts deals with injuries (“there are limbs falling off and blood spraying everywhere,” as my professor would say), some of these cases are funny only in a dark way. Some of them are old cases, if that matters.

1) Osterlind v. Hill (1928)
A guy rents canoes to two very drunk guys, who go out on the lake and capsize. One of the drunk guys manages to hang on to the boat for 30 minutes, loudly calling for help. The boat owner hears his cries and does absolutely nothing (the court doesn’t explain what the owner was doing while this was happening, but I like to think he was rocking on his porch), and the drunk guy eventually releases his hold on the canoe and drowns. This case is funny because A) of how big an asshole the boat owner was, and B) the court reluctantly concluded that the owner was not liable to the families of the drunk guys because a person does not have a legal duty to rescue.

2) Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (1976)
Tarasoff is a truly sad case and not funny at all, but it is worth mentioning because it is interesting and very famous. It basically involved some foreign guy who kissed Tarasoff on New Year’s Eve, misinterpreted that to mean that they had a deep romance or were engaged, and was offended and angered when she basically told him it was no big deal. He told his shrink that he was going to kill an unnamed girl, and the shrink didn’t report this to the cops. He shortly thereafter went to Tarasoff’s residence and murdered her. I guess this case might be funny in that foreign people have goofy customs that we can laugh at.

3) McGuiggan v. New England Tel. and Tel. Co. (1986)
A kid graduates high school; his parents throw him a party. He and his buddies drink there, and then leave in a car. The kid, riding shotgun, feels sick and leans his head out to puke, and cracks his head on a telephone pole, resulting in death. This case is funny because A) it reminds me of crazy college times (there but for the grace of God went I), and B) the parents sued the telephone company, and the indignant telephone company, feeling little remorse for the grieving parents, sued them right back on the grounds that they provided the kids alcohol and were therefore responsible for their son’s death.

4) Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928)
Probably the most famous tort case ever. Two guy are racing to catch a train that is pulling out of the station. One of them makes it, but the other guy (who is carrying a package) jumps onto the train and totters immediately like he is about to fall off. Two guards on the train push and yank him onto the train to prevent him from falling off, and in the commotion the man drops his package. The package contained some kind of fireworks, which explode when the package is dropped. The force of the explosion causes tiles to fall on the head of a lady who is standing 30 feet away. This case is funny because A) a lady minding her own business was hit in the head with tiles, and B) the judge ruled against here in her lawsuit against the train company.

5) Riss v. City of New York (1968)
Linda Riss rejected a suitor, Burton Pugach. As the court says “this miscreant, masquerading as a respectable attorney, repeatedly threatened to have Linda killed or maimed if she did not yield to him.” She became engaged to another man, and Pugach warned her that this was “her last chance.” She went to the cops, who dismissed the matter as a lover’s quarrel. Pugach then hired three thugs who went up to Riss and threw lye in her face, blinding her in one eye and scarring her face permanently.

What makes this case great is the subsequent history.Pugach now claims that he hired the thugs just to beat Riss up, not throw lye in her face. He proposed to her on TV (because he wasn’t allowed near her) after serving 14 years in jail, and SHE SAID YES!!!!!!! She has explained her decision to marry him by citing Christian forgiveness, blaming the New York cops for the incident, and relying on the ADVICE OF A FREAKING FORTUNE TELLER!! He has recently made the exact same threats to his mistress that he made to Riss, but Riss was still willing to testify on his behalf. Torts are stranger than fiction.

6) Mathias v. Actor Economy Lodging, Inc. (2002)
Kind of a funny case about a motel with rampant bedbug problem. The plaintiffs, former customers of the motel, sued and each got $5,000 in compensatory damages but $186,000 in punitive damages (punitive damages being used to punish offenders for particularly egregious misconduct). This motel sounds gross beyond words. This excerpt from Judge Posner’s opinion, with its parenthetical observation and its Posneresque tangent on ticks, always cracks me up:

“The infestation continued and began to reach farcical proportions, as when a guest, after complaining of having been bitten repeatedly by insects while asleep in his room in the hotel was moved to another room only to discover insects there; and within 18 minutes of being moved to a third room he discovered insects in that room as well and had to be moved still again. (Odd that at that point he didn't flee the motel.) By July, the motel's management was acknowledging to EcoLab that there was a "major problem with bed bugs" and that all that was being done about it was "chasing them from room to room." Desk clerks were instructed to call the "bedbugs" "ticks," apparently on the theory that customers would be less alarmed, though in fact ticks are more dangerous than bedbugs because they spread Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Rooms that the motel had placed on "Do not rent, bugs in room" status nevertheless were rented.”

7) Koffman v. Garnett (2003)
This case involved a middle school football coach who, upset about his team’s poor tackling during their first game of the season, demonstrated proper tackling form for his team at the first practice after the loss. The problem was that a) the coach weighed 260 lbs. and the person he tackled was 144 lb.s, and b) he gave no warning to the poor kid that he was going to tackle him. As the court says:

“Garnett [the coach] ordered Andy to hold a football and stand ‘upright and motionless’ so that Garnett could explain the proper tackling technique. Then Garnett, without further warning, thrust his arms around Andy’s body, lifted him ‘off his feet by two feet or more,’ and slammed him to the ground . . . the force of the tackle broke the humerus bone in Andy’s left arm.”

This makes me laugh because the coach sounds like a walking caricature: the middle-aged, frustrated former athlete unleashing his rage on frightened kids by “coaching.”


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