Personal injury attorneys are well skilled at discussing cases people find reprehensible. If I had a dime for ever time someone mentioned the McDonald’s Coffee Case to me, I could probably stop practicing law and retire. That case, like many others, was far more interesting and complex than the headline of “Woman sues McDonalds over hot coffee”. If you are interested in what I am saying, I suggest you watch the fantastic documentary Hot Coffee.
There are other cases that people like to bring up, including some that are just fictional creations of the tort reform lobby. And my purpose for this post is not to launch an argument against tort reform… rather I want to talk about the “new Coffee case”. Namely, the awful Connecticut woman who sued her 12 year old nephew for hugging her!!! My Facebook feed has been littered with friends mocking and insulting this woman with real vitriol! I can already hear you saying, “Joe, you’re not possibly going to defend this woman or her lawsuit?!?” Yeah, I am. And, I’ll explain the reasoning behind it.
Of course the headline of this case is reprehensible. What kind of awful person could sue someone who loves them for an act of love?? The answer might be that she had no choice. The simple reality is that the civil justice system is designed to shift costs. We can not take away injuries once they occur. We can not hit a rewind button seconds before serious injury is caused in an accident. Nor, can we put a price on a broken bone to make it go away. All that we can do is compensate the injured person financially to assist with the disability, the lost wages and medical bills. In the end, that is all our personal injury system is designed to do. The person who rear-ended you likely is not an awful person who meant you harm, rather he or she made a mistake. Their mistake, however, cost you in medical bills and pain and suffering. So while they did not mean to harm you, their insurance will compensate you financially because that is the best that we can do. And in this case, the 12 year old boy is not an awful person who meant harm. But nevertheless, he hurt his Aunt breaking her arm racking up a hefty medical bill.
Now I admit I do not know the full details of this case, but I have seen similar situations before. I have represented a wife who was the passenger in an accident caused by her husband driving, and I have represented a child against their father. These cases are not made for revenge and no one actually wants to bring a case against a family member, but that is what the civil justice system requires. When you sue for a slip and fall, you do not sue Allstate Insurance, you sue the owner of the property that caused the fall. In this case, the woman could not sue the homeowners insurance, instead she had to sue her nephew.
I imagine that this woman did not have health insurance or did not have adequate medical coverage and after the accident she was left with tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills. If an insurance company might cover the claim and shift the costs then she can not be said to be an awful human being for trying. She had no choice but to “sue” her nephew if the insurance company was ever going to cover her hefty medical bills.
Again, I don’t know everything… but neither do most people commenting on the case. I hope you can understand the principals of law that I have written here and see why such an awful law suit might exist. After all, the accident occurred because the 12 year old was running to hug her. He must love her… so maybe she’s not so awful after all.