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A thoughtful compilation and analysis of some important, but underreported and under-researched news stories, with particular focus on keeping the People informed about all Enemies, Foreign and Domestic.

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BY ALFRED WEST

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    Saturday, June 30, 2007

    Jury Ruling May Be a Step in the Right Direction for Tort Liability

    According to a recent article, "A Butte County jury has found a Gridley supermarket not liable to pay civil damages to an illegal alien who slipped and fell on a grape inside the store."(1)

    The plaintiff was not named in the article. Her lawyer attempted to obscure her status as an illegal alien from the jury by asking her to stipulate that the reason she could not pay her medical expenses was because she could not work.(2) Whether or not the jury ruled against her due to her immigration status is not important. This was the correct ruling under common law principles that our courts have been increasingly hostile to. Liability is commonly attached not to -- well -- liability, but instead to money. If there is an injury and if someone with deep pockets can in any way be associated with the cause, that person will likely be sued.

    For example, if a wealthy person leaves her car unlocked with the engine running and it is stolen [assume she was dropping off a video at Blockbuster], and the thief runs over a little girl resulting in $300,000 in medical expenses, her lawyers will try to sue the woman who's car was stolen, not the thief. The thief likely has no assets, but the woman he stole from does. The little girl's lawyers will allege that the woman was negligent in leaving her car unlocked. They will say that she should reasonably known that most incidents of random thefts are crimes of opportunity. As such, she should reasonably have expected a greater risk of her car being stolen if it were unlocked; further, she should have anticipated that harm could be done to innocent third parties. Her willful negligence in not securing her vehicle, a dangerous instrument, is the proximate cause of the little girl's injury. Had the defendant secured her vehicle, the intervening cause of the theft likely would not have occurred. Her failure to secure her car was a breach of her duty to keep the car from harming the little girl. Therefore, the defendant is liable for any resulting damage.

    Now, I know what you're saying. The woman who's car was stolen is also an innocent party. The thief committed two crimes -- stealing the car and running over the little girl. That's how an ordinary rational thinker would react, because ordinary rational thinkers cannot blame someone for an act when the act was performed by a completely different person acting of their own volition. But in the fictional realms of legal speculation, lawyers and judges would consider the question of the rich woman's liability to have legal merit. When I asked a professor of tort law about this, emphasizing that it is not right to hold people liable for the actions of third parties, he answered in genuine earnest (and that was the truly chilling part) that it wasn't fair that an innocent third party should suffer and that it is the responsibility of the courts to to make sure the person most able to bear the cost does so. What he basically said was that the woman was liable because she was rich. If the car thief had been a trust fund kid on a joy ride, he would have been more likely to be held liable for the cost. Tort liability theories like this, entertained by judges, have made our court system into sort of an ad hoc welfare system.

    I have never thought this even remotely resembles justice because it is wrong to make a person responsible for the voluntary actions of another. The ruling against the illegal alien who slipped on a grape might be a step in the right direction for tort liability. The article is sparse on the actual details, but if I were her lawyer, I would argue that the supermarket had a duty of care to maintain a safe premises. That the customer slipped shows that they did not do so; therefore they should be responsible (I would supplement this with affidavits, if I could get them, that the store was aware of litter on the floor, or that they did not take make an ordinary effort to watch for litter). If I were the supermarket's lawyer, I would basically say that the grape was dropped by another customer and even with the best effort, it is impossible to watch all the customers all the time. I would say that the supermarket exercised the ordinary standard of care and that negligence by a third party constituted an intervening cause. And for good measure, I would argue that the illegal alien was contributorily negligent in that she did not exercise due caution in her own movements and thus assumed the risk of injury. I of course, have no idea if this is what the defense argument was, but if any of it were, it is now legal precedent in that jurisdiction; and that would be very good news for innocent non-actors who are parties in tort liability cases.

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    (1) Terry Vau Dell. "Jury nixes illegal alien's suit over fall in grocery store," Oroville Mercury Register, 2007 June 29, para. 1, http://www.orovillemr.com/news/ci_6256948.
    (2) Ibid. paras. 4-5.

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    1 Comments:
    Blogger james said...

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