Wedding Disasters: Funny Stories Or Lawsuit Worthy?

Weddings are a big deal. Couples  spend thousands of dollars to make sure every tiny detail is perfect. Unfortunately, however, there is no guarantee the ceremony will go off without a hitch. Even when spending a small fortune, a wedding can be ruined by a rain shower or an intoxicated participant. Sometimes, the “disaster” transitions into a humorous story after time removes the scarring. Other times, the disaster is so egregious that it might just lead to a lawsuit. It is a fine line, to be sure. Recently, a South Carolina couple has alleged that they found themselves on the wrong side of that line. But let’s allow you to judge.

According to a report out of the Daily Mail, a Charleston couple claims that their 2013 wedding was ruined after a man exposed his genitalia during their ceremony in the courtyard of the Doubletree Inn. Apparently, a naked hotel guest decided that he wanted to take part in the ceremony by standing in front of an open window overlooking the courtyard in all his glory. This curious event transpired after the couple was allegedly assured by hotel management that the ceremony would not be disrupted by hotel guests not in attendance. As a result, the couple and the bride’s parents have filed suit against City Market Hotels seeking actual and punitive damages for negligence and emotional distress. The streaker is not named as a defendant.

We understand the couple’s frustration. You only get one wedding day with your partner. Now, this couple’s special day will always be marred by the actions of a creeper. The question is, however, what, if anything, is this suit worth? Certainly, like any business transaction, if you don’t get what you pay for, you should be able to ask for a refund. Our guess is that if that was all the couple wanted, then there would have been no reason to file suit.

For some, an event such as this is so unconscionable that it will forever cause anguish. For others, it leads to a heck of a funny story from an otherwise bland wedding. We imagine the jury pool will be made up of those on both side of the divide. Whether or not the couple recovers, this event will make for a story they will one day tell their grandchildren. Of course, a good laugh will ensue.

R.I.P. Buckyballs

Buckyballs, we hardly knew ye. Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a formal recall of the controversial product, putting an end to the two year fight with the product manufacturer. The recall comes on the heels of a well-publicized fight between the CPSC and Buckyballs’ CEO Craig Zucker. After the company openly mocked the CPSC’s efforts to ban the spherically-shaped magnets, the CPSC, in an unprecedented move, went after Zucker personally. While Zucker fought valiantly, he eventually succumbed to the CPSC back in May, agreeing to place $375,000 in trust to facilitate the recall.

We here at Abnormal Use are in a state of mourning now that the recall has come to fruition. Not just because we question the motives of the CPSC. Not even because the Buckyballs saga has been a great source of blog fodder. But, rather, because we respected the fight in Zucker. It is one thing for us to criticize the CPSC behind the protection of our computers. It is quite another to directly challenge the CPSC’s methods.

Never again will we see the likes classic CPSC burns like:

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or

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Zucker and Buckyballs are the Secretariat of the product recall world. There will never be another. Like DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Buckyballs will never be forgotten. We all knew it had to end at some point, but, unfortunately, it was the CPSC that had to be Zucker’s game 57.

New Concerns About Tesla Safety After Crash of Stolen Car

In 2013, two crashes allegedly sparked fires in Tesla Model S luxury electric sedans.  Those fires spurred an investigation by federal safety regulators, but ultimately, only minor changes to the cars’ underbody were deemed necessary.  Now, concerns over the fire safety of the luxury electric-cars have been renewed following the fiery crash of a stolen Tesla Model S in Los Angeles.

The crash occurred over the July 4th weekend after a man stole a Model S from a Tesla service center and led police on a high-speed chase.  That chase ultimately ended in high impact crash;  the vehicle struck a steel pole.  The force of the impact split the vehicle in half and ignited the vehicle’s lithium ion battery.  Although he initially survived the accident, the driver ultimately died from injuries sustained in the accident. It is not, however, known at this time whether the fatal injuries were related to fire rather than the impact of the crash.

While these crashes certainly grab headlines given the high profile of Tesla Motors, it does not appear that electric vehicles are any less safe than gasoline-powered vehicles.  As the Insurance Journal has noted, in 2012, there were 172,500 vehicle fires in the United States resulting in 300 deaths, but none of the deaths involved electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.  This is likely due to the fact that battery fires have a longer induction period than gasoline fires.  In other words, a lithium battery fire takes longer to get going – so the drivers have a better chance of escaping the vehicles.

It is notable that Model S does have a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Nevertheless, the fire issues certainly have had an affect on Tesla’s stock price.  Share prices took a 2.9 percent hit following the most recent accident.

Friday Links

america_vs_jsa

“I accuse the JSA of treason!” exclaims Batman on the cover of America Vs. The Justice Society #1, published not so long ago in 1985. Technically, wouldn’t the proper caption be “United States v. The Justice Society?” We here at Abnormal Use don’t practice in the federal criminal courts, but we seem to recall that it is always the “United States” listed as a party in that type of litigation. And does Batman have enough evidence as required by the U.S. Constitution? Whatever the case, here is the somewhat confusing plot summary from, of course, Wikipedia:

The series was set on Earth-Two and began with the discovery of Batman’s diary (The pre-Crisis Earth-Two Bruce Wayne had been murdered by a criminal named Bill Jensen prior to this adventure as indicated in this story) which indicated that the Justice Society was guilty of treason during World War II and conspired to cover-up their treason after the war was over. The group is put on trial and their history is reviewed. All the historical adventures involving the JSA are remembered, and details are added. It eventually reveals that the diary is a hoax created by Batman in an effort to have the JSA apprehend Per Degaton at a future time that Batman believed he would not be alive for.

Here’s what the drummer of the band Tool told Rolling Stone about the litigation his band is facing: “We’re going to trial and we want to crush them. But every time we’ve gotten close to going to trial, it gets postponed and we’ve wasted money and time and it has just drained our creative energy. We bought an insurance policy for peace of mind, but instead we would have been better off if we never had it and just dealt with the original lawsuit.”

GWB’s own Stuart Mauney has been appointed to a one year term as a member of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs Advisory Committee. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has the mandate to educate the legal profession concerning alcoholism, chemical dependencies, stress, depression and other mental health issues. Don’t forget:  You can follow Stuart on Twitter here. (Oh, and speaking of Stuart, you should go back in time and read his “Burned At Mediation By My Own Facebook Post!” blog entry from 2012.

Finally, there was a great turnout last night at the North Carolina Legal Geeks event at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Unknown Brewing Company. North Carolina attorney Clark Walton spoke to the group about digital and smartphone forensics. If you’re into legal technology issues, you might consider following @NCLegalGeeks on Twitter.

The Range Feud 2: The Dueling Dukes

The Range Feud 2

Famed actor John Wayne was born Marion Robert Morrison, but he was perhaps best known for his nickname, “The Duke.”  The Duke personified the American Wild West.  He shot and strung up bad guys, fought his way out of tight spots, and generally exhibited a level of awesome manliness that inspired generations of American men.  The Duke also enjoyed his whiskey, and his family recently launched a “Duke” brand whiskey, “inspired by bottles from John Wayne’s personal whiskey collection, preserved for over 50 years and only recently discovered.”  Sounds great, right?  Well, not to everyone.

Reportedly,  Duke University recently filed objections in the trademark office to prevent the whiskey from using the “Duke” name, alleging that doing so will ”’cause confusion and dilution’ that hurts the school’s recruiting and reputation.”  The Duke’s family, which has filed a lawsuit of its own in California, denounces Duke University’s arguments as “ludicrous,” and argues that “[Duke University] ‘has never been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing or selling alcohol,’ [but the school] ‘seems to think it owns the word ‘Duke’ for all purposes and applications.”

It will be interesting to see how this one turns out, as both sides have some interesting arguments.  While the outcome is not clear, one thing is. Duke University should count its lucky stars that it is dealing with the family and not the Duke himself, because the Duke didn’t believe in lawsuits:  “Out here a man settles his own problems.”

ABA Releases Ethics Opinion On Juror Social Media Research

As you know, we here at Abnormal Use love writing and blogging, so much so that our editor Jim Dedman is now contributing posts to other online venues.  Recently, his piece, “ABA Releases Ethics Opinion On Juror Social Media Research,” was published in the Defense Research Institute’s Trials and Tribulations Newsletter. In the piece, he surveys and comments upon the recent ABA rulings and notes its broader implications.

Here’s the first two paragraphs of the article:

In 2014, we, as practicing defense lawyers, find ourselves more than a decade into the age of social media in litigation. These days, without fail, nearly every legal publication and trade journal of note features an article about the value of social media in litigation. Over the years, we’ve learned the benefits of an online investigation of Plaintiffs (and the potential for splendid impeachment material which can arise from such queries), efforts to explore the backgrounds of Plaintiffs’ retained testifying experts , and of course, the general perils of lawyers using social media. We all know that prospective and sitting jurors use – and occasionally abuse – social media. In fact, these days, when preparing for trial, litigators rely upon social media data in determining which prospective jurors to consider or strike from the venire panel. Recently, on April 24, 2014, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 466, entitled “Lawyer Reviewing Jurors’ Internet Presence.” Generally, this comprehensive nine page ethical opinion offers guidance to litigators using social media to investigate potential and sitting jurors. Interpreting pre-Internet principles and applying them to the ever growing social media landscape, the new ABA opinion, as persuasive authority, offers guidance on these issues. The bottom line: When preparing for trial and investigating jurors, be mindful of the potential ethical issues at hand.

First and foremost, yes, litigators can investigate and review publicly available social media profiles of sitting and prospective jurors. The ABA opinion provides that “a lawyer may passively review a juror’s public presence on the Internet.” Like many, jurors have profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (and countless other sites), and lawyers can input the juror’s name into their search engine of choice and review the results without fear of ethical implications. This conclusion makes perfect sense, as there is no reason to deprive lawyers of the ability to access information that the juror has published online for the world to see. In the opinion, the ABA committee likens this “passive review” of such public information to a lawyer “driving down the street where the prospective juror lives to observe the environs in order to glean publically available information that could inform the lawyer’s jury-selection decisions.”

For the rest of the article, please click here.

Juggalo Lawsuit Against The FBI And DOJ Dismissed For Lack Of Standing

Earlier this year, the Insane Clown Posse and several fans sued the Department of Justice and the FBI in federal court in Michigan for designating Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, which cites a National Gang Intelligence Report about the Juggalos.  Both the NGIC report and the FBI report described increasing criminal activity among Juggalos.  In its report, the NGIC noted that over the years, two sides of the Juggalo sub-culture had emerged and that there were two very different factions of Juggalos, the music fans and the criminal street gang.  IThe FBI report does not distinguish between the two factions.

According to the complaint, people with Juggalo tattoos and clothing were targeted by police and denied jobs as a result of the FBI’s report.  The Justice Department maintained that ICP and its fans lacked standing to sue because the government is not responsible for how police agencies use the information in the gang reports. Agreeing with the Justice Department, the court dismissed the lawsuit last month due to the Plaintiffs’ lack of standing.  In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland held that because “Plaintiffs complain of independent actions by third-parties who are not currently before the court” and “the court is reluctant to endorse standing theories that rest on speculation about the decisions of independent actors.”   The Court noted that the alleged discriminatory actions were performed by independent third-parties and not at the direction of the FBI or DOJ.  ICP and the Michigan ACLU have vowed to appeal the decision. To be honest, from a standing perspective, this sounds like the correct result.

Unfortunately, the actions of a small portion of a population appear to have stigmatized the entire group.  Admittedly, we here at Abnormal Use know little about the oeuvre of Insane Clown Posse or the Juggalo subculture.  We do know that they apparently sometimes wear face paint, drink Faygo, and question the power of magnets.  And now, all of  the non-violent Juggalos have little legal recourse against the feds on this issue.

(See also: Huffington Post).

EPA Launches Investigation Into Its Own Troubling Environmental Issues

The stated mission of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to “protect human health and the environment.”  However, a recent scandal is forcing the EPA to focus its mission inward.  Reportedly, the EPA Denver office recently sent an email to all employees regarding “recent incidents” including “an individual placing feces in the hallway.”  Apparently, the EPA is “taking this situation very seriously and will take whatever actions are necessary to identify and prosecute these individuals.”  Criminal charges could include “disorderly conduct” or “vandalism.” We at Abnormal Use remain confused and troubled by this news.  Is this ironic environmental scandal worse than the NSA domestic surveillance debacle?  Possibly.  We just hope that the miscreant offenders face justice so that these federal antics don’t become a trend, like Tebowing or planking.

(Hat tip: FindLaw).

Friday Links

pym

As our editor recently tweeted, we here at Abnormal Use recently stumbled across the comic book cover above, that of Avengers #228, published way, way back in 1983. “At Last! The Trial of Yellow Jacket!” the cover proclaims. If you only know The Avengers from the recent films, you may be unfamiliar with Yellow Jacket a/k/a Hank Pym a/k/a Ant Man a/k/a as Giant Man a/k/a Goliath. He’s also the creator of the villainous robot Ultron (who will apparently be the main menace in the upcoming Avengers film sequel). Anyway, the producers of the Avengers films didn’t see fit to include Pym in the films, despite his status as a founding member of the group in the comics. Let’s just say, though, that he had some issues, as you might suspect from the cover above. Visible in the courtroom are She-Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, and Janet Pym a/k/a The Wasp, whose troubled marriage to Hank was explored in the comics for years. Here’s a summary of the issue we located:

While both the Avengers and the general public anxiously await the outcome of Hank Pym’s trial for treason, Egghead again reforms the Masters of Evil and sends them to the courthouse to free Hank. During the resultant battle with the Avengers, the newly recruited Radioactive Man unleashes a gamma ray burst which changes the She-Hulk back to Jennifer Walters, thus turning the tide in his allies’ favor. Despite the heroes’ best efforts, their opponents succeed in spiriting Hank away, while deliberately leaving behind a brainwashed Shocker to assert that the former Avenger planned his own escape. Now believing that he can never be cleared, the captive Hank is seemingly coerced into aiding Egghead’s latest scheme.

An Avenger on trial for treason, eh? How about that? In fact, we once wrote about this trial back in early 2013. For that edition of Friday Links, please see here.

In case you missed it, South Carolina Bar President Cal Watson penned an editorial entitled “Lawyers fight for America’s founding principles” for The State newspaper. You can read it here.

You know, we write a lot about McDonald’s litigation and hot coffee, but we’ve never written about bears at McDonald’s.

“Too Fast” Bat Decision Upheld By Tenth Circuit

Not too long ago, we reported on the decision of an Oklahoma federal court to toss a $951,000 jury verdict against Hillerich and Bradsby, the manufacturer of Louisville Slugger baseball bats. As you may recall, the jury had awarded a 15-year old boy and his parents nearly $1 million after he was struck in the face by a line drive, causing severe facial injuries. In reaching its decision, the jury determined that the aluminum bat was defective and unreasonably dangerous because it could hit a ball faster than its wooden counterparts – a condition for which Louisville Slugger failed to warn. Moreover, it determined that the boy did not assume the risk of injury when electing to play baseball. The court held, however, that there was “no basis for a reasonable jury to find that the bat had ‘dangerous characteristics.’”

In an unpublished decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant Hellerich’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. In a well-written opinion, the Court examined the plaintiff’s theory that the bat was unreasonably dangerous because it hit a ball “too fast.” In order to recover on such a theory, logically the plaintiff would need to show the the speed of a ball off of an “ordinary” bat versus the speed of the ball off of the bat at issue. Because the plaintiff produced no objective evidence of either component, the Court held that the district court judge did not err in correcting the jury’s verdict on defective design. The opinion can be found at Yeaman v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., No. 12-6254 (10th. Cir. June 30. 2014).

While this case involves a much different set of facts and rests on a different theory of recovery, it is an interesting contrast to the recent flying hot dog opinion in which the court held that the risk of being hit by a flying dog was not inherent to baseball and, thus, a baseball team could not be shielded from liability. The risks of being injured by a ball struck by a bat are clearly inherent to the game. This Louisville Slugger case, on the other hand, attempted to establish that the bat was somehow unreasonably dangerous beyond those inherent risks. An interesting theory, to be sure. While the jury may have bought it, the court saw otherwise.