Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #7-03

Published February 1, 2008

Tough Question

One of Sam Zell’s first official acts after purchasing the Chicago Tribune last year was to rewrite the employee handbook in his characteristic irreverent and jocular fashion, reminding employees to “have fun.” But employment law lawyers worry the new handbook is “a legal minefield.”

Among other things, it encourages employees to “Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer. You will earn respect, and not get into trouble for asking tough questions.” When a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel (part of the Tribune Company) took this seriously and asked Zell at a staff meeting in late January if he intended to soften news coverage to include “puppies,” Zell’s answer included an F-bomb.

The question is whether the word amounts to sexual harassment. Not according to the handbook, which advises “accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. … This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment.” We’ll see if the courts agree.

Source: Molly Selvin, “No legalese in this handbook, But would CEO Sam Zell’s breezy new Tribune employee manual hold up in court?” Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2008, via, January 22, 2008;

The Computer Ate My Test

Law grads can’t write the essay portion of the New York bar exam on their computers unless they release the State Board of Law Examiners from liability for software and hardware glitches and electrical outages. The new requirement resulted from a computer software malfunction last summer that caused essays written by 47 grads to be lost. No word on what happens if a test taker’s pen runs out of ink.

Source: Debra Cassens Weiss, “Want to Take the N.Y. Bar Exam? Sign a Waiver,” American Bar Association Journal, January 3, 2008, via, January 22, 2008

Adding Insult to Injury

If you get hit in the head by a kid swinging a baseball bat while watching your son’s Little League game, it’s your own fault.

That’s what a New York appellate court ruled recently, though not in so many words.

The court said, “While we can and should aspire and act to make athletic and recreational endeavor safe, the primary assumption of risk doctrine reflects and implements a considered policy judgment that, if sport, with all of its many social benefits, is to persist, vigorous and unstifled by its attendant and often considerable risks, there must be tolerated a disparity between the level of safety that might be optimally or even reasonably achieved and that which the law mandates.”

Like we said, it’s your own fault.

Source: Noeleen G. Walder, “Spectator Hurt by Little League Batter Assumed Risk of Injury, Court Finds,” New York Law Journal, January 14, 2008 via Illinois Civil Justice League; Roberts v. Boys and Girls Republic, Inc., Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, 2008 NY Slip Op., January 8, 2008

All’s Not Fair in Love

A wife whose husband strayed for a few weeks is suing the other woman for $45,000, according to a suit filed in January in Illinois’ Cook County Circuit Court. The wife alleges her husband of 20 years was lured away by a former girlfriend’s “lavish gifts, large sums of cash and sexual acts.” Guess love had nothing to do with it.

Source: “Wife Sues Husband’s Lover, Claiming Loss Of Love,” WMAQ-TV (Chicago), January 23, 2008

A Prairie Home Enemy

Garrison Keillor, host of the radio program A Prairie Home Companion, sued his next door neighbor in St. Paul, Minnesota last month for planning to build a garage and a two-story addition to the house.

The new garage would “obstruct the access to light and air” to Keillor’s house and “impair or destroy protected historical resources,” Keillor alleges in the suit. “Hundreds of St. Paul people have fought the good fight for historic preservation, and we are proud to be among them,” Keillor said in a statement. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission approved the plan, however.

The neighbor called the suit “unneighborly.”

Source: Christina Capecchi, “From One Prairie Home to Another,” New York Times, January 16, 2008

The Dealer Made Me Do It

A former crystal meth addict’s suit against her drug dealer is proceeding toward judgment in a Canadian court after the judge barred the dealer from presenting any defense.

The former addict alleges in her negligence suit she suffered a heart attack after her drug dealer effectively forced her to ingest the drug. The dealer’s defense–that the addict “consumed the drug of her own free will” and filed the suit only for revenge–was stricken after the dealer refused to identify his drug source.

“It definitely sends some sort of a message now because other people can sue people and hit them where it hurts and take their assets and any money they’ve made from drug dealing,” the former addict said, adding she hoped it made drug dealing “seem less appealing.”

Source: Tim Cook, “Former Meth Addict’s Negligence Suit Proceeds Against Alleged Supplier,” Associated Press, January 14, 2008

Dirty Job–But Lucrative

A handyman who found a stash of cash in the walls of the home he was rehabbing is threatening to sue the homeowner over who should get to keep the money.

As he tore out the bathroom walls, the handyman found bundles of rare, collectible 70-year-old currency with a face value of $182,000 but appraised at up to $500,000. The handyman claims the homeowner offered to give him a 10 percent finders fee and then rejected his demand for 40 percent of the cash. He is now threatening to file suit to keep it all.

The suit would be based on the ancient doctrine of “treasure trove.” If the cash was “mislaid,” the property owner would get to keep it. If it was merely “lost,” it’s finders-keepers for the handyman.

The money apparently belonged to a local businessman, who seems to have died unmarried and without children. The man’s heirs, if any, will have to be located, from whom it will be determined if the money is “lost” or “mislaid.”

Source: Jim Nichols, “He found $182,000–in her bathroom. Who gets the cash?” Plain Dealer, December 11, 2007 via, December 12, 2007

Calls of the Wild

A Maine woman is suing two firms for placing telephone-sex calls to her and then billing her for them. The suit alleges invasion of privacy, negligence, defamation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The woman seeks $783 in actual damages and unspecified punitive damages.

“These actions were so extreme as to exceed all bounds of decency and must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” her lawyer said. Guess she must have listened.

Source: “74-year-old woman files lawsuit over unwanted sex phone calls,” Boston Globe, January 11, 2008

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly

Published by The Heartland Institute (312/377-4000), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984.
Phone 312/377-4000, fax 312/377-5000
Back issues are available online at
Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

Information on lawsuit abuse can be found on these Web sites:

The Heartland Institute
19 South La Salle Street #903
Chicago, Illinois 60603