As a lawyer, I sort of feel compelled to apologize for this

From the Chicago Tribune:

Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for “bad mothering” damages allegedly caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.

The alleged offenses include failing to take her daughter to a car show, telling her then-7-year-old son to buckle his seat belt or she would contact police, “haggling” over the amount to spend on party dresses and calling her daughter at midnight to ask that she return home from celebrating homecoming.

Last week, when the court record stood about a foot tall, an Illinois appeals court dismissed the case, finding that none of the mother’s conduct was “extreme or outrageous.” To rule in favor of her children, the court found, “could potentially open the floodgates to subject family child rearing to … excessive judicial scrutiny and interference.”


Among the exhibits filed in the case is a birthday card Garrity sent her son, who in his lawsuit sought damages because the card was “inappropriate” and failed to include cash or a check. He also alleged she failed to send a card for years or, while he was in college, care packages.

On the front of the American Greetings card is a picture of tomatoes spread across a table that are indistinguishable except for one in the middle with craft-store googly eyes attached.

“Son I got you this Birthday card because it’s just like you … different from all the rest!” the card reads. On the inside Garrity wrote, “Have a great day! Love & Hugs, Mom xoxoxo.”

In court papers, Garrity’s attorney Shelley Smith said the “litany of childish complaints and ingratitude” in the lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by Garrity’s ex-husband to “seek the ultimate revenge” of having her children accuse her of “being an inadequate mother.”\

Via Mark Steyn.

The moose are loose

Every Newfoundlander with a driver’s licence has either struck a moose on one of the province’s highways, or come very close.  (My scare came in 1992, barely a year after I’d gotten my licence, while driving this through Terra Nova Park.)   Now, prominent trial lawyer Ches Crosbie (John’s son) is leading a class action against the Provincial government for failing to adequately protect motorists:

The statement of claim that Ches Crosbie is putting forward has no legal precedence that either side is aware of. None of the allegations noted have ever been tested in court.

At the heart of Crosbie’s case is the population of moose in Newfoundland and Labrador. Specifically, the plaintiffs point to the fact that these animals are not native to the province. Because they are alien species brought in by earlier settlers, the government is responsible for controlling the growth of the species. “Wildlife practices of the defendant have allowed the moose population on the Island to reach numbers in the range of 120,000 to 200,000 … multiplying the danger of moose collisions for users of the highways,” reads the statement of claim. The statement of claim also adds: the “government made a decision to bring this non-native invasive species here about a hundred years ago,” but the government has “avoided taking responsibility for managing the hazard it created.”

Accordingly, the plaintiffs demand that the Newfoundland and Labrador government take actions to cut the population of moose by half as a means to protect drivers. As well, moose near roads should be allowed to be killed by officials and fences should be installed along roads to keep them out.


At first glance, this case may seem sensational. Upon further examination, though, the legal issue at the heart of this case should remind us of a case that was heard some 20 years ago. The legal analysis will turn on the duty of care that is owed by public authorities. The guiding case is the 1989 Supreme Court of Canada case of Just v. BC. In the earlier case, the issue of governmental liability was raised when a boulder fell on a car, killing one passenger and seriously injuring another. The plaintiff claimed that the government had neglected to properly maintain the highway. At the trial and Court of Appeal levels, the judges held the government of British Columbia to not be liable in tort, as the entire inspection system and its implementation are policy matters.

What ultimately comes out of the Just case is a test for when governmental actions are exempt from liability, to as to allow government actors to exercise their duty to formulate public policy without intervention from the courts. This is fundamental to the division of powers in our country.

First, the majority of the judges on the Supreme Court found there to be general proximity because “the Department of Highways could readily foresee the risk that harm might befall users of a highway if it were not reasonably maintained.” Once general proximity is established, the Court in turned their attention to statutory exemptions and the difference between an operational decision and a policy decision. That forms the crux of the Just test. “Government agencies may be exempt from the application of the traditional tort law duty of care if an explicit statutory exemption exists or if the decision arose as a result of a policy decision,” summarizes the Court.

The Court found that there was no statutory exemption, so it proceeded to distinguish policy decisions from operational decisions, explicitly noting that the former concerns budgetary allotments for departments or government agencies. This kind of investigation usually includes an inquiry into where on the governmental hierarchy the decision was made, whether it was done with advanced planning as opposed to being executed on the ground, etc.

While it was a policy decision to have safeguards on the highway, the majority of the Court found that the government failed to exercise due care in the operation of the policy — in the manner and quality of the inspection system. Having found no statutory exemption and having dismissed it as a policy decision, the Court ordered a new trial to more fully investigate the facts of the case (i.e. budgetary restrains, availability of personnel, etc.) in Just.


Never look a gift horse in the mouth, unless the horse has a criminal record

A small town in Ontario learns a hard lesson about vetting:

A convicted sex offender is suing the Town of Amherstburg to force the Ontario community to name streets, soccer fields, a park and a walking trail after him.

Richard James Massen, 80, is asking a Superior Court judge to enforce a contract he entered into with the town on May 3, 2010. Massen’s statement of claim, which has yet to be tested in court, says he paid $100,000 for naming rights in and around the Amherstburg recreation complex. The complex opened in January as the United Communities Credit Union Complex.

Town council in February voted unanimously to repeal the bylaw authorizing Massen’s sponsorship agreement after hearing from residents outraged that a convicted sex offender’s name would be displayed at the complex. Council held an emergency meeting after news of the donation and Massen’s past was reported by the Windsor Star.


“He doesn’t want his money back. He wants them to live up to the contract,” said Sam Mossman, Massen’s lawyer. “The contract is very clear.”

Massen is not suing for breach of contract, but rather wants “specific performance” of that contract, Mossman said. That means Massen is insisting he gets to name the main street leading into the complex, a street that runs parallel to that main street, a service road, a park area, a walking trail and the soccer fields.

He is also asking for the town to pay his costs of launching the lawsuit and any other relief deemed appropriate by a judge.

Yes, the McDonald’s coffee was way too hot

I’m not unsympathetic to the cause of tort reform in the United States (at the very least, I believe the “loser pays” principle should apply, as it does in most Canadian cases).  That said, many horror stories about the American civil justice system are exaggerated beyond recognition, as shown by America’s legal journal of record:

…No doubt you’ve heard of the lady that sued McDonald’s because she spilled some hot coffee in her lap while driving. What a moron! you might have thought. How stupid do you have to be to not know coffee is hot? Americans these days! Blaming everyone but themselves for their mistakes!

It turns out there’s a lot more to the story. First of all, the hot coffee wasn’t just uncomfortable and embarrassing, it gave her third degree burns over six percent of her body, which required fucking skin graftsYou can see the burns yourself if you’re not squeamish.

Secondly, coffee served at that temperature (180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit) will give a person third-degree burns in two to seven seconds, while home-coffee brewers normally serve coffee at much lower temperatures (130 two 140 degrees) which won’t immediately burn you. Yes, Starbucks and other joints do serve coffee at the hotter temperatures — because some customers prefer it — but then again, they get sued for it also. Thirdly, she attempted to settle for $20,000 at one point, and McDonald’s refused, which is when she started getting cranky.


…But she has to take some responsibility, right? She may not have been driving, but she was trying to open the lid in her lap so she could add cream and sugar. That’s kind of careless, isn’t it? Why couldn’t the jury see that?

Well, they did. That’s why the compensatory damages portion ($200,000) was reduced by 20 percent, because they ruled it was 20 percent her fault.

As a rule, if a multi-million dollar (or even multi-thousand dollar) lawsuit sounds too crazy to be true, there’s almost certainly an important detail or three being left out of the story.

Mr. Stig, QC, for the defence

Electric sports-car maker Tesla is suing the producers of Top Gear for defamation:

The episode in question, first broadcast in 2008, showed Jeremy Clarkson driving a Roadster that appeared to power down unexpectedly. The car was pushed from the track into a garage, where Clarkson claimed the Roadster was only capable of going for 55 miles around the Top Gear test circuit — some 145 miles less than Tesla’s official figure.

Clarkson then went on to claim a second Roadster on loan had suffered a brake failure, which meant the programme was unable to continue their review.

Following the show, Tesla said the alleged breakdowns were staged. The company revealed that at no point did either of the two Roadsters it had loaned to the show dip below 20 per cent charge and that there were no brake failures on either car.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC challenged Tesla’s interpretation of events and claimed the footage of the Roadster running out of juice was merely illustrative of what would happen if the batteries were exhausted.

“At no time did we claim that the cars ran out of charge,” said a spokesperson. “When the car began to lose power we included a voiceover which stated: ‘And if it does run out it’s not a quick job to charge it up again.’ Top Gear stands by the findings in this film and is content that it offers a fair representation of the Tesla’s performance on the day it was tested.”

Tesla has started a website to present its side of the story, while a Top Gear producer responds here.  I think the Beeb has the better of the argument, but British libel law is notoriously plaintiff-friendly, so who knows?

The offending segment:

This week in frivolous lawsuits

1. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder (the man who makes Oakland Raiders fans say, “whew, at least our team is not run by that guy”) was upset by a hilarious Washington City Paper story portraying him as an incompetent, money-grubbing bully.   And what better way to show you’re not a bully by suing the paper for defamation and threatening, ” the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper”?

Bonus: Snyder also accuses the paper of anti-Semitism.  If he wants to get all PC on us, maybe he should look at that team nickname again.

2. Jimmy Carter is being sued by some people who were shocked to find out his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was a bit one-sided:

More than four years after its publication, five disgruntled readers have filed a class-action lawsuit against President Jimmy Carter and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, alleging that his 2006 book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” contained “numerous false and knowingly misleading statements intended to promote the author’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda and to deceive the reading public instead of presenting accurate information as advertised.”

The five plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are seeking at least $5 million in compensation. The hard cover edition cost $27.

The suit accuses Carter and his publisher of violating New York consumer protection laws because they engaged in “deceptive acts in the course of conducting business” and alleges that they sought enrichment by promoting the book “as a work of non-fiction.”

In a press release, one of the attorneys, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner stated: “The lawsuit will expose all the falsehoods and misrepresentations in Carter’s book and prove that his hatred of Israel has led him to commit this fraud on the public. He is entitled to his opinions but deceptions and lies have no place in works of history.”

My position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can effectively be summarized as “the opposite of whatever Jimmy Carter says,” but this pretty silly.  In the unlikely event that this isn’t laughed out of court, do we all get to sue writers just because we’re offended by their politics?  (If so, dibs on Hints from Heloise. She knows why.)

Um, I’ll have the bean burrito instead

Now I really don’t want to know what happened to the chihuahua:

Taco Bell might want to change it’s “Think Outside the Bun” campaign to “What’s Really in That Taco?” after a class-action lawsuit filed against the fast-food giant claimed its taco filler doesn’t, um, “meat” federal standards.

The suit against the YUM-brands chain also has a “beef” with the company’s advertising, charging its claims of using “seasoned ground beef” or “seasoned beef” in its food products is false.

According to the suit filed by the Alabama law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, the YUM-brands owned chain is using a meat mixture that contains binders and extenders, and does not meet the minimum requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be labeled as “beef.”

Attorney Dee Miles said the meat mixture contained just 35 percent beef, with the remaining 65 percent containing water, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch.


Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch said the company denies that its advertising is misleading and said the company would “vigorously defend the suit.”