In 1997 the New Jersey legislature enacted a law stating that a convicted drunk driver “shall have no cause of action for his or her injuries,” but a state appeals court decided that was no reason not to allow such a driver to sue the drinking establishment that allegedly should have cut him off earlier. An earlier appeals case had allowed such suits against “social hosts” such as party-givers. [AnnMarie McDonald/NJLRA, Henry Gottlieb/NJLJ]
And now Councilmember Letitia James [D-Fort Greene] wants money for “serious, severe and permanent” injuries from David Day, who is described as an itinerant laborer. “Please don’t go forward with it,” Day is reported to have written to James. “You are famous and powerful while I’m a nobody without means who’s done you no harm.” [Brooklyn Paper]
In 2004, truck driver Simon Loza Mejia violated company regulations, and took his eight-year-old Diana Yuleidy Loza-Jimenez along on a long-haul trip from Oregon to Bakersfield. That November 27, he was pulling away in the truck, but apparently didn’t bother to check where his daughter was, and ran over her. This was, argued her attorneys, the fault of her father’s employer—and a Sacramento County judge agreed with the argument that it was legally irrelevant that her father was the one who ran her over. Unsurprisingly, a jury ignorant of the facts awarded Diana, whose lower body was crushed, a jackpot verdict of $24.3 million, over $20 million of which was noneconomic damages. (Andy Furillo, “Sacramento jury awards record $24.3 million to girl run over by dad’s truck”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 9 (h/t @BobDorigoJones)).
Patsy Hamaker, who in 2007 had an alcohol-related one-car wreck on the way home from The Furnace (NSFW link, unless you work some place that approves of stripclub websites) and sued her employer over the accident, claiming that the club encouraged her to drink, won $100,000 from a Jefferson County, Alabama, jury, somewhat less than the $1.2 million she sought.
Hamaker, whose stage name was Tessa, went to work at The Furnace on Oct. 17, 2007. She drank enough that night for her blood-alcohol content level to rise to nearly three times the legal limit, was pulled by security from one of the VIP rooms, and then left after at least three attempts to stop her, according to testimony during the trial. Her car wrecked on the interstate, and she suffered a broken nose and back.
The club’s records show a customer bought Hamaker one “dancer drink,” a commission drink or bottle ranging in price from $12 to $2,500. The club did not have a record of other drinks she may have [ordered on her own].
Attorneys for the Furnace pointed out that dancers can specify their preference for non-alcoholic or diluted dancer drinks. And the club’s general manager, Jennifer Etheridge, testified that she does not want dancers getting intoxicated. Asked why, Etheridge said: “You try working with 30 drunk people.”
(Erin Stock, “Former stripper gets $100,000 in lawsuit: Blamed club for drunken wreck”, Birmingham News, Feb. 2) (h/t P.E.).
Those of you who have attended my “Law of McDonald’s” talks in California and Florida may recall the case of the strip search hoax. A Florida man who was unusually persuasive would call dozens of fast food restaurants until he could find someone who would believe he was with the police and who would disrobe employees (or themselves) at his instructions; though there have been other lawsuits seeking to blame the fast food restaurants for this, courts have generally thrown them out. One exception was the case of Ogborn v. McDonald’s, where two targets of the hoax successfully sued for millions. On Friday, the Kentucky Court of Appeals largely affirmed the lower court judgment, though it reduced the punitive damages received by Donna Summers (who gave an Alford guilty plea for her role in the strip search) from $1 million to $400,000. McDonald’s hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court. (Andrew Wolfson, “Appeals court upholds $6.1 million strip-search verdict against McDonald’s”, Kentucky Courier-Journal, Nov. 20, via ABA Journal).
“It was obvious from the facts that she did not intend to steal any items from Wal-Mart,” says Denise Macon’s St. Clair County Circuit Court lawsuit, which seeks $150,000 plus punitive damages. Macon left the store with two unpaid items underneath her purse in the shopping cart, and claims this was just forgetfulness, but Wal-Mart called police who charged her with misdemeanor shoplifting. Macon was acquitted after a two-day trial and says she never should have been charged. The Wal-Mart security officer is a co-defendant, presumably to keep the case in state court by defeating complete diversity. (Kelly Holleran, “Shopper who forgot to pay for pajamas sues Wal-Mart over her arrest”, Madison-St. Clair Record, Oct. 7).
OnPoint News: “Taking employment law into uncharted waters, a $645 million lawsuit alleges the operator of the Hard Rock resort in Las Vegas is liable for the death of its former CEO’s girlfriend because it consented to his ‘hedonistic lifestyle.’” Family members of the 23-year-old woman, who overdosed on drugs in the former CEO’s suite, say the hotel should be responsible because it knowingly cultivated an image of high living, drug use and promiscuity, which made his conduct with respect to her something “within the course and scope of his employment”. The former CEO has already settled a wrongful-death suit brought by the woman’s father.
Investigators for the Salem, Mass. police concluded that the Pereira cousins’ vehicle had been speeding along recklessly at 81 mph when they collided with the Honda Odyssey minivan of Christine Speliotis and her passenger; Timothy Pereira now faces multiple charges while police concluded that Speliotis was traveling at a reasonable speed and did not charge her with wrongdoing. Now Brandon Pereira, who was a passenger in his cousin’s vehicle and severely injured in the crash, is suing Speliotis, who with her passenger suffered broken bones and other injuries. His attorney, Roland Hughes, provided this quote to the Salem News: “Basically, under Massachusetts law I’m trying to get compensation for my client anywhere I can.”
Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John Avlon, in Forbes:
New York City spends more money on lawsuits than the next five largest American cities — Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Philadelphia — combined. The city’s $568 million outlay in fiscal year 2008 was more than double what it spent 15 years ago and 20 times what it paid in 1977.
And the odd and extreme cases continue:
A Brooklyn insurance investigator won $2.3 million this year after he tumbled onto the subway tracks with a 0.18 blood-alcohol level and lost his right leg. (“They’re not allowed to hit you just because you’re drunk and on the track,” his lawyer explained.) A corrections officer received $7.25 million after unsuccessfully attempting suicide, on the grounds that the city should not have permitted her to have a gun. (“Ms. Jones could just have easily turned her city-authorized firearm on anyone,” her lawyer said.)
The piece is adapted from a contribution to a City Journal symposium, “New York’s Tomorrow”, and there’s also an associated podcast (cross-posted from Point of Law). More: Eric Turkewitz talks back from a plaintiff’s point of view (“when you account for inflation, there really hasn’t been much change at all” [compared with 15 years ago)] (& welcome Above the Law, WSJ Law Blog readers)