“The law, for all its failings, has a noble goal – to make the little bit of life that people can actually control more just. We can’t end disease or natural disasters, but we can devise rules for our dealings with one another that fairly weigh the rights and needs of everyone, and which, therefore, reflect our best vision of ourselves.” That quote (from Scott Turow, who wrote Presumed Innocent and Limitations) was on my Starbucks cup this morning. (Starbucks has apparently taken it upon itself to enlighten us patrons with the wisdom of many random people…) And it’s funny, because we were just talking about legal matters the other day… reminiscing about dad and the infamous Shopping Cart Incident.
The Shopping Cart Incident, for those who are unaware, occurred back in New Jersey several years ago. Mom and dad had met up for a movie, and when dad went out to his car in the parking lot afterwards, there was a note on his windshield. Something about contacting the police, I think. And when he did, he discovered that a woman had filed a complaint against him, claiming that when he parked his car he rammed it into a shopping cart, which then hit the woman’s car and caused untold amounts of damage. Now, we all realize that dad’s mind is often on engineering matters (oh, he of the peculiar cognitive traits…), but it’s pretty difficult to miss a shopping cart in the middle of your parking space. Especially one you’ve hit hard enough to catapult across a parking lot and demolish another car. But thanks to the crafty, devious plotting of the woman who filed the complaint (who, I later found out, went to my high school… yeah, good ol’ Lenape Valley really churned out some real winners…), my dad was forced to hire a lawyer and go to court. Fortunately, Miss Crafty and Devious also turned out to be Miss Really Stupid, and she attempted to represent herself (which would mean she had a fool for a lawyer, or however that saying goes…). And since she had exactly ZERO proof that my dad did ANYTHING beyond go to see a movie that day, the judge angrily dismissed the case with a few choice words for Miss Really Stupid.
And here’s where our legal system needs a bit of tweaking, in my opinion – since the Shopping Cart Incident was so OBVIOUSLY a creation of this woman’s mind, I think the judge should have ordered her to pay my dad’s legal fees. SHE was the one who decided to waste the time of everyone involved in the case, apparently hoping she could make a few bucks off a person who did absolutely nothing wrong. She tried, for all intents and purposes, to steal someone else’s money – she just tried to do it in a “legal” way.
I remember back when I worked at the law firm that I once saw a case where a guy was claiming all kinds of damages and injuries from a car accident. His car had been rear-ended, and to read through the file, you’d think the guy could barely walk anymore. An accident reconstruction specialist looked at the damage to the cars, and determined that this man’s car had been rear-ended at 5 MPH. Five miles per hour. FIVE. Hit at five miles per hour, and all of a sudden his back hurts, his neck hurts, his legs hurt, he’s missing all kinds of work, he can barely smile anymore, he can’t pay his chiropractic bills (because it’s always chiropractic bills, never medical doctor bills), his wife leaves him, his parents disown him, his friends desert him, his life is in shambles… Oh PUUUHLEASE… I used to have a little Honda Civic that was rear-ended at about 5 MPH (heck, maybe even 7 or 8 MPH) by a semi-sized dump truck that hit me FIVE TIMES before it was finally able to come to a stop. There were five separate points of impact on my car – it was banged up quite a bit. And you know what happened to me? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. My neck was fine, my back was fine… I didn’t so much as get a case of the hiccups…
It’s lawsuits like these that definitely DON’T, as Scott Turow says, “fairly weigh the rights and needs of everyone.” And they certainly don’t “reflect our best vision of ourselves.” If they did, my dad never would’ve had to go to court, and never would’ve had to pay for a lawyer. But at the very LEAST, he should’ve been offered free movie tickets for a few years… :)