As readers of “Legally Speaking” know, I frequently report on some of the more bizarre lawsuits out there. Sometimes—like this week—there are so many out there they warrant their own column.
In January 2012, when the ill-fated Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground and 32 people died, most of us expected there to be lawsuits filed. We just didn’t expect that one of those lawsuits would be a wrongful termination claim by the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. After all, Schettino currently faces criminal charges of manslaughter and abandoning his ship, and he was fired for pretty much doing the opposite of what a ship captain ought to do. He brought the cruise ship too close to shore, causing it to hit a rock; delayed evacuation of the ship; abandoned ship and took a lifeboat while passengers were still trying to escape (Schettino later claimed he tripped and fell into the lifeboat); and then refused Coast Guard orders to return to the ship. Yet, somehow, he feels he’s been wrongfully terminated. His lawyer says “It is the right of every worker to appeal against his dismissal and Captain Schettino has done no more than exercise that right.” Spoken like a lawyer . . . .
A wife could blame a number of people if she found out her husband cheated on her and had a threesome. For starters, she could blame her husband and his two sexual partners. But what if he died during the act—who does she blame then? Well, if you’re the widow of 31 year-old William Martinez of Lawrenceville, Georgia, you sue your husband’s doctor for malpractice. Confused? Join the club. The widow got a lawyer and sued Martinez’s cardiologist, Dr. SreenivasuluGangasani, claiming that the doctor failed to warn Martinez (who had a history of high blood pressure) to refrain from physical activity like sex. The day before he was scheduled for some medical tests in 2009, Martinez had a tryst with a friend and a woman who was not his wife, and died of cardiac failure during the encounter. As incredible as it sounds, when the case went to trial in 2012, the jury found Martinez’s doctor liable and returned a verdict of $5 million (because the jury assessed 40% of the fault against Martinez himself, the verdict was reduced to $3 million). The cardiologist’s lawyers said they would appeal.
David Hoogland of Perth, Australia claims he is the victim of discrimination—hair discrimination. Mr. Hoogland, you see, was thrown out of Point Hall, a popular Perth bar, because of his mullet. Yes, in 2012, Hoogland is still rockin’ the “business up front, party in the back” hairstyle made famous by Billy Ray Cyrus. Hoogland may be a victim, all right—a fashion victim.
As humiliating as it must be to be a grown man beaten up by a child, it has to be even worse when you draw attention to that fact by filing a lawsuit over it. Yet, that is exactly what happened with New York elementary school teacher John Webster. Webster, a 220-lb. former college football player, claims to have suffered permanent injuries when he tried to subdue first-grader Rodrigo Carpio (who Webster describes as “very very strong”) when the student began acting up. Webster claims to have suffered a broken ankle and a right knee injury requiring surgery, and he is seeking money damages from the school district. There is no word on how much the injury to Webster’s dignity might be worth.
A judge in New Zealand has thrown out a case brought by someone who evidently never heard the old adage “Never speak ill of the dead.” A New Zealand government ministry brought charges against South Korean fishermen Soon Ill Hwang and Dae Jun Lee of illegally dumping dead fish at sea. However, shortly after the charges were made, Soon died in a car accident. Despite this, the ministry’s lawyer argued that there were still reasons for the prosecution of Soon to go forward—a position Judge Gary MacAskill found “absurd.” Said the judge, “It reminds me of Monty Python and his dead parrot. I would have thought that the death of the accused is pretty fundamental.” Judge MacAskill even sarcastically suggested that the only way to obtain testimony from the accused would be to hold a séance.
A Staten Island, New York pastor and his wife, Michael and Angela Nwadiuko, recently fell short in their effort to change their names to “Mr. and Mrs. ChristisKing.” Civil court judge Philip Straniere cited separation of church and state as the reason for denying the unusual request. Straniere wrote that if he approved the name change, “many people would not only not be comfortable reciting the petitioners’ proposed name but that in doing so would be violating that person’s religious or lack of religious beliefs.” The pastor and his wife had previously (in another state) changed the names of their two children to “JesusisLord” and “Rejoice.”
In Texas, we live by a simple rule: you mess with the bull, you get the horns. And if a mechanical bull is involved, don’t count on a windfall. That’s the takeaway from the Austin Court of Appeal’s August 2012 opinion in Thom v. Rebel’s Honky Tonk. In the case, a man who consumed alcohol, failed to disclose a prior back condition, and signed a release of liability tried to sue for injuries sustained when he fell from a mechanical bull at the honky tonk. The court held that the plaintiff had assumed the risk and released the bar from all liability. C’mon, this is Texas—what did you expect would happen when you mounted a bull, mechanical or otherwise? You get thrown off the bull, and thrown out of court.