Author Archive

$25M suit for affair with priest

The plaintiff alleges she gave in to the defendant priest’s sexual advances after confessing her marital difficulties to him.  She alleges the priest assured her the sex was “ordained by God” so she thereafter engaged in intercourse with him.  This, of course, is all due to the negligence of the local Catholic diocese according to her suit and not her own poor judgment in falling for such a lame pickup line.  (“Confession Obsession?”, The Smoking Gun, Oct. 29).

Aw, nuts!

Or so the defendant might say about the $185K verdict in this case (reduced by 50% due to the plaintiff’s comparative fault).  She slipped and fell at Texas Roadhouse allegedly due to peanut shells and whatnot on the hardwood floor.  Allegedly, restaurant patrons were encouraged to discard shells on the floor, which, according to my experience with a similar establishment in a different state, highlights the casual western theme.

From a claims and loss control perspective encouraging patrons to throw debris onto hardwood floors just seems like a bad idea because I doubt whatever “atmosphere” is created thereby increases revenue enough to offset the costs of defending this or similar claims, and sometimes paying the verdict.  (“Jury’s $185K Award More Than Peanuts for Restaurant”, On Point News, Oct. 27).

Why stores have surveillance cameras, Vol. 2

Hello, and thanks again to Walter Olson for welcoming me back to help fill in this week. His prior post reminded me of this surveillance tape I’ve kept after all these years simply for comic relief.

The tape shows one customer casually stroll through the door without incident all the while another intending customer in quite the hurry tries to run in–he thought–through an open door. Instead, it was the plate glass adjacent to the door. He smacks into it bowing the glass and then storms into the store while the other customers gawk at him. The original clip was without sound but I couldn’t resist jazzing it up with Gonna Fly Now from Rocky.

Here’s the Overlawyered part: he made a claim against the store owner; and, the claim was paid as a compromise. Part of the reason why is visible on the video—can you see it?

Suit: Untimely cremation should net us $3.5M

Or, so says a family’s suit against a funeral home and crematorium.  It never ceases to crack me up how some people can take a modest, legitimate claim and blow it up into a claim for financial independence.

53-year-old Pamela Grant died unattended, was autopsied and later cremated despite a fax by the funeral home to the crematorium instructing it to hold off.  You see, the family says they wanted to view the body before cremation and place mementos with it.  They were deprived of that chance and filed suit against the funeral home for $3M and the crematorium for $450K.

Now, there’s certainly a legitimate complaint here but I see little to justify the sky-high demand.  Naturally, the plaintiffs’ attorney is high-minded saying “his clients sued because they wanted to send a message to the businesses that their behavior was unacceptable.”  Translation: it’s not about the money.

The jury got it right, awarding $48K from the crematorium to the Grant children and nothing from the funeral home.  That’s a far cry from the $3.5M demand and right in line with what the crematorium’s defense counsel suggested to the jury.  (“Missed goodbye to cost crematory, not Oregon City funeral home”,, Aug. 15).

I’ve finished my week as guest blogger and will pass the torch back to Walter Olson.  Walter, thank you again for the opportunity here on Overlawyered.

Ungoogle me, please

Seattle attorney Shakespear Feyissa was accused of attempted sexual assault while attending Seattle Pacific University in 1998.  He was never charged with a crime and naturally, not convicted.  But since the allegations were covered in the school paper’s online edition they are cached in Google and easily uncovered for anyone who searches his name.

SPU agreed to remove the story from the school paper but when administrators approached the student editors they said no way.  Chris Durr, editor of The Falcon Newspaper said:

We explained to them, if they wanted to start down a path of removing historical archives and pulling it from the public sphere, what they’re doing is censorship.  We basically said, sorry, we have principles in journalism that don’t allow us to put stuff in the memory hole and pretend it never happened.

(“Seattle attorney finds that the Internet won’t let go of his past”, Seattle Times, Aug. 15).

Claim: School is Responsible for Son’s Cross-Dressing

This is the silliest claim I’ve seen in a long while.  The shooting victim’s family filed a claim against the school their son attended because it allegedly failed to enforce the dress code.  The “feminine-dressing” boy was thusly singled out for abuse.  (“Family of shooting victim files claim against Huenume School District”, VenturaCountyStar, Aug. 14).

Update: I revised the title for accuracy.

August 14 roundup

  • 47% of those polled believe traditional media should offer equal time to opposing viewpoints.  Although 57% polled say blog sites should not have to allow other viewpoints, 31% believe the government should “force” them to.  Can you believe that?  In a related story, help me in welcoming John Edwards as next week’s guest blogger.  (“47% Favor Government Mandated Political Balance on Radio, TV”, Rasmussen Reports, Aug. 14).
  • Speaking of John Edwards–is he the new Bill Clinton?  Some may think he’s the right person to carry on his legacy.  (“John Edwards is the new Clinton, Spitzer, Craig”,, Aug. 13).
  • I thought the law was well-settled that you could say ignorant, mean and hurtful things (and, shame on those who do).  But, anyway the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously agreed.  (“Oregon court says racist, insulting speech is protected”,, Aug. 14).
  • Also from Oregon–a young man’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the police shooting death of their son.  “We were forced to go ahead and file this to shed light on the events of that night” his mother said.  Shed light?  So, what’s with the $14M demand?  And, what’s this about him threatening police with a knife? (“Tigard teen’s family sues for millions in fatal police shooting”,, Aug. 13 & Sep. 17 ’06).
  • Let the plaintiff’s bar go to bat for you on this one–after a Utah school learned of a bat infestation it partnered with the county health department to exterminate them.  Meanwhile, the district made intercom announcements asking students who may have had contact with bats to seek assistance, and made voluntary payments to seven students for rabies vaccinations.  A student’s mother sues despite no evidence her son contracted rabies or suffered any other injury.  (“Lehi Mom sues Alpine School District over bats”, Deseret News, Jul. 17).

Expert Witnesses – The American Rule

Here’s a good article on the American practice of allowing litigants to hire their own experts.  Each expert advocates a position favorable to “their” side often rendering the dueling experts’ opinions of limited usefulness to the jury.  Other countries implement different mechanisms for engaging expert testimony including having the judge select the expert.  That sounds less partisan and cheaper, too.  (“In U.S., Expert Witnesses Are Partisan”, The New York Times, Aug. 11).

And, I’m reminded of Ron Coleman’s post where he quotes an article describing hired experts as “witnesses having other rational explanations”.  (Try the acronym and you’ll get it).

Overlawyered – All Horse Edition

The need for tort reform doesn’t necessarily arise from headline-grabbing blockbuster verdicts but rather a “death by a thousand cuts” of many small suits of questionable merit.  Example: A woman sues the party host after drinking and then attempting to get on his horse as part of the party festivities.  She falls, suffers injuries and files suit against the host making general allegations of negligence, including, “providing … the opportunity to participate in the ‘inherently dangerous activity of horseback’ ”.

Does the host’s behavior rise to the level of negligence?  And, if so how is the woman’s negligence less than his?  He may have offered the alcohol; she drank it.  He may have offered the horseback ride; she accepted.  Have we reached the point in America that we need to have party goers sign waivers for private festivities?   But since exculpatory agreements are generally frowned upon by the courts I think I’ll just stay home alone.  A lot of fun that will be.  (“Suit shows you shouldn’t drink and ride horses”, The West Virginia Record, Aug. 8).

Horse example number 2:  Certified Massage Therapist Mercedes Clemens is suing two state agencies because her avocation is massaging horses but the state won’t let her (at least not for a fee) because she is only licensed to massage humans.  And, for once it’s really not about the money because she’s not asking for it in her lawsuit, just the right to massage animals.  It’s not as if Clemens is practicing pediatric anesthesiology for kicks.  So who cares, really?

I suspect it’s the veterinary board or the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure (at the behest of its members) who fear Clemens and people like her will poach their clients. And, if the state would simply step out of the way in this instance it could avoid this lawsuit. (“Woman sues for right to massage horses”, MSNBC, Aug. 11 and “Rockville therapist sues state for right to massage animals”, Gazette.Net, Jul 2).