Posts Tagged ‘eggshell plaintiffs’

Another thought on Waddah Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada, the fly-in-bottled-water case

The Canadian Supreme Court overturned the lower court C$341,000 decision in Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada, but it’s worth noting that the result would have been different in the United States. To recap, Waddah “Martin” Mustapha saw (but did not consume) a fly in a bottled water. As Yoni Goldstein memorably recounts:

[Mustapha] proceeded to vomit all over his house, and later experienced problems drinking anything with water in it, showering (because that also involves water) and going to work and having sex (where, presumably, water was involved in some major, incapacitating way).

Culligan did not contest that it was negligent; it did not even contest that the sight of the fly caused Mustapha’s injuries. It simply argued that Mustapha’s idiosyncratic reaction was not its concern, and that it should only be liable for the reaction of the reasonable person who had seen a fly in a bottle of water. In the US, that argument does not fly: basic 1L Torts teaches the “eggshell plaintiff” rule–you take the plaintiff as you find him or her. Canada differs. “The law expects reasonable fortitude and robustness of its citizens and will not impose liability for the exceptional frailty of certain individuals.” Canada is thus less prone to the sort of absurd claims that Mustapha raised than the United States is, as, if the courts follow the law, there is less incentive to exaggerate the scope of injury. In a US case, the defendant would have to engage in expensive pre-trial discovery to demonstrate that Mustapha’s psychological disorders were not caused by the incident, and would still have to go to a jury if Mustapha could produce an expert for hire who would testify differently. According to the Canadian Supreme Court, the appropriate approach is to simply use common sense and toss the case. But, as the lower court decision shows, there are certainly some in the judiciary who wish to move the Canadian model closer to the disastrous American one.

Bubbles cost Duluth $125,000

Sometime between 5 and 6 in the Saturday morning of July 7, 2001, a prankster put gallons of Joy dish soap into Duluth’s Fountain of Wind, turning it into an eight-foot-high mass of bubbles. 57-year-old Kathy Kelly was attracted by the bubbles and decided to walk into it. And fell and cut her leg. As a diabetic, Kelly suffered from what first-year law students call Vosburg v. Putney syndrome, and incurred $43,000 of medical expenses from the cut, which turned gangrenous. So a St. Louis County jury awarded her $125,000 when it decided that Duluth taxpayers should compensate her for 70% of her injury because the city didn’t clean up the fountain quickly enough (on an early Saturday morning) or do enough to warn people not to walk into an eight-foot high mass of soap bubbles where they couldn’t see where they were walking. “People shouldn’t have to be on their guard when they are taking a step,” explained one juror, who dissented from the final decision because he wanted to hold taxpayers 90% responsible. The jury found Kelly 30% responsible, and apparently didn’t seek to apportion blame to the unknown prankster. But I suppose we can be thankful that no one sued the soap manufacturer. (Mark Stodghill, “Woman gets $125,000 in Duluth ‘bubble trial'”, Duluth News Tribune, Mar. 23; Mark Stodghill, “Woman sues city over soapy fall”, Duluth News Tribune, Mar. 12) (via Obscure Store).