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Legal Nonsense Print E-mail
by John Browning    Mon, Aug 22, 2011, 06:47 AM

“I’m afraid this dreadful nonsense is the law.” –Justice Strauss in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Volume One: The Bad Beginning)

 

Keen insight is not the sole province of adult literature, as the above quote from the first of the popular Lemony Snicket series of children’s books demonstrates.  The very same book contains another observation that rings true as well: “. . . But one type of book that practically no one likes to read is a book about the law.  Books about the law are notorious for being very long, very dull, and very difficult to read.”  As the author or contributing author to four law-related books, and as someone who’s read more law books than I care to remember, I’m inclined to agree with this observation.

 

Part of the problem is the title.  Just recently, I came across a few rather unfortunately-named law books.  One of these is How to Become an Unsuccessful Lawyer, by Andrew White.  Hey, Andrew, do you think offering tips on how to become a successful lawyer would attract more readers?  Or maybe you figured everyone was tired of those books that promise that they’ll help you succeed, and you decided to corner the market on downward mobility instead?  Another such book is Dirk van Zyl Smit’s Taking Life Imprisonment Seriously.  Is there anyone who doesn’t take this subject seriously, including those convicted and sentenced to life?  Put away those seltzer bottles and whoopee cushions, folks—it’s time to take life imprisonment seriously, for a change.  Or how about Gerard Forlin’s Butterworth’s Corporate Manslaughter Service?  No, it’s not some thrilling spy novel about industrial hitmen.  The looseleaf binder from the legal publisher Butterworth’s refers to “corporate manslaughter,” the legal term of art used in the United Kingdom for what we would refer to as wrongful death cases involving corporations as defendants.

 

Maybe what law books need more are colorful turns of phrase to break up the monotony of otherwise dry legal proceedings.  If so, perhaps we should turn to the likes of the Honorable Martin J. Sheehan, judge of the Kenton Circuit Court in Covington, Kentucky.  Judge Meehan is known for illustrating key points in his judicial opinions with quotes from figures ranging from St. Thomas More and William Shakespeare to singer/songwriter Tom Waites, Pink Floyd, and John Wayne.  But it will be hard to top his recent order acknowledging the settlement that had been reached in what was no doubt a complex, hotly-disputed case:

 

And such news of an amicable settlement having made this Court happier than a tick on a fat dog because it is otherwise busier than a one legged cat in a sandbox and, quite frankly, would have rather jumped naked off of a twelve foot step ladder into a five gallon bucket of porcupines than have presided over a two week trial of the herein dispute, a trial which, no doubt, would have made the jury more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar and made the parties and their attorneys madder than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory.

 

Judge Sheehan went on to advise the clerk to engage the services of a structural engineer “to ascertain if the return of this file to the clerk’s office will exceed the maximum structural load of the floors of said office.”

 

Perhaps law books need to include some of the more interesting, hard-to-believe-they-filed-it cases of which the legal system has so much to offer.  I’ll be happy to supply a few, like the two men in Springfield, Georgia who were so high on methamphetamines recently that they called 911, hallucinating that intruders were breaking into their home.  Effingham County sheriff’s deputies arrived and, after determining that no intruders were to be found, arrested the pair on charges of manufacturing and possessing methamphetamines.  Another might be the recent product liability/wrongful death lawsuit filed in Wisconsin by the daughter of a man killed while crossing the street in his motorized wheelchair.  She’s suing the driver of the car that struck him, which makes sense.  But Candess Higgerson is also suing Invacare Corporation (manufacturer of the power wheelchair) and its retailer, the Scooter Store Ltd.  Higgerson claims that the wheelchair was somehow defective because it didn’t come equipped with “flags or other devices to make it visible to motorists.”  Seriously?  It’s a wheelchair, for crying out loud, not a car.  What else do you want on it—airbags?

 

Another lawsuit that might liven up a law book is that of a government employee in New South Wales, Australia who was injured while staying at a hotel during a work-related trip for her employer, and is now taking her workers compensation claim to court.  What makes this matter unusual?  The injuries occurred while she was having sex at the hotel, and a light fixture detached from the wall above the bed, hitting her in the face and leaving her with injuries to her nose, mouth, and a tooth “as well as a consequent psychiatric injury” (I’m sure it killed the mood, too).  Her lawyer argues that the injuries were caused “during the course of her employment” and that they happened during an ordinary life activity like showering or eating.  The employer and the Australian workplace safety body ComCare disagree, however, saying that such sexual activity was not part of her work nor “an ordinary incident of an overnight stay like showering, sleeping, or eating.”  The workers compensation claim has been rejected by one tribunal already, and appealed to Federal Court.

 

What can we take away from this case, other than a whole new meaning for the term “rough sex?”  If having sex during business trips was so “ordinary” that an employer should expect to be responsible for any injuries that occurred (like slipping in the shower, or chipping your tooth during a business lunch), more people would be eager to take business trips.

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