Posts tagged as:

trespassers

Pruett Nance was hurt riding an all-terrain vehicle on the grounds of a no-longer-operating theme park in Arkansas, Dogpatch USA. The owners having not paid a $650,000 judgment, a judge has awarded Nance ownership of the park. [Arkansas Online via Childs, TortsProf]

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February 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 5, 2011

  • Thomas Sowell on EPA dairy-spill regulations [NRO, earlier at Cato here and here] It’s the miracle federal agency: “What doesn’t the EPA do?” [ShopFloor]
  • President’s State of the Union medical malpractice gesture, cont’d [PoL, more, Ted Frank/Examiner, NJLRA, related, earlier here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.]
  • Fired minor-league Yankees mascot files wage-hour suit [ESPN]
  • Ohio sheriff prepares criminal complaint against reporter for asking him questions [WHIO via Balko]
  • It all happened so suddenly: Henry Waxman now disapproves of the use of subpoenas for fishing expeditions [Mark Tapscott, Examiner; earlier]
  • Should hospitals ban cameras from childbirth? [NYT "Room for Debate" with contribution from Jim Harper, Cato Institute]
  • Non-”flagrant” trespassing OK? Tort liability shift in Third Restatement [PoL]
  • Nope: “At this time, I would like to formally accuse Walter Olson of having an intern or something.” [Ron Miller]

“State Senator Jim Alesi fell off a ladder and broke his leg at someone else’s unfinished home three years ago – and now he’s blaming the homeowners for his injury. Alesi is also suing the home builder, Louis DiRisio.” Alesi has said he was checking out the development and didn’t realize the house in question, which he entered through an unlocked basement door, had already been sold to owners. The homeowners’ right to sue Alesi for trespassing has now expired under the statute of limitations, and they may be rethinking their decision not to press charges at the time. [WHAM, WHEC, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle] Update: he drops suit.

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“Chutzpah hits the rails”

by Walter Olson on September 15, 2008

The Boston Herald editorializes (Sept. 13) on the “zapped Amtrak trespasser” case discussed here earlier and suggests that loser-pays would help.

Brian Hopkins, 25, of Astoria, Queens, New York City, “who survived an electric shock and fire two years ago when he climbed atop an empty, stopped Amtrak train after a night of bar hopping in Boston is suing the railroad – because Amtrak didn’t do enough to protect trespassers like him.” (Kathianne Boniello, New York Post, Aug. 31).

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15-year-old honor student and SADD member Lindsey Billman snuck out of a slumber party with three of her friends and had an alcohol-fueled night with two 18-year-old boys. Around 2:45 a.m., two boys and two girls had the clever idea of stacking milk crates to reach an air-conditioning unit that allowed them to clamber onto the roof of Anna S. Kuhl Elementary School. The two couples went to separate sides of the roof. Billman and Nicholas Moscatiello then had the further clever idea of doing whatever they were doing while sitting on a skylight, which didn’t support their weight, and the 33-foot-fall onto the gymnasium floor below killed Billman.

This is, alleges an Orange County, New York, suit filed by Lindsey’s parents, the fault of the school district and the city of Port Jervis, New York. After all, the district was “irresponsible” stacking milk crates by the school. A curious choice of words: out of the number of people irresponsible here, it seems to me that the district is at most a distant eighth. (Steve Sacco, “Parents suing Port Jervis, school in girl’s fatal fall through roof”, Times Herald-Record, Jul. 26; Adam Bosch, “1 teen dead, 1 critical in fall”, Times Herald-Record, Jan. 27). The attorney is Corey Stark, a 2001 law-school graduate in New York City who has single-handedly refuted the proposition that New York state needs more law schools. (Thought experiment: if the milk crates are an attractive nuisance, why isn’t the dairy liable?)

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(Post bumped with 12:20 AM update adding coverage of state Labor Department’s suggestion for new warnings.)

Roller-coaster enthusiast and torts professor Bill Childs is stealing our thunder in his coverage of the recent Georgia Batman roller coaster decapitation of Asia LeeShawn Ferguson IV, so there’s no point in rewriting his excellent post instead of quoting it:

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…we debunked a debunking of Bodine v. Enterprise High School, the most famous burglar that fell through the skylight lawsuit. (The promulgator of the original fake debunking promised a comprehensive response “in the next week”, though, 26 weeks later, we haven’t seen it.)

Now, Hawaii is considering legislation similar to California’s that would give immunity to property-owners sued by people injured in the course of committing particular felonies, though it’s not clear to me that it would apply to unarmed burglary, which seems to only be a “Class C” felony in Hawaii.

“Local taxpayers have been forced to foot a £380,000 bill for a council to adapt its properties after a trespasser fell through a skylight while retrieving a football.” (Stewart Payne, “£380,000 to protect trespassers”, Telegraph, Sep. 30) (h/t D.N.). Earlier: Sep. 25.

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Bizarro-Overlawyered is upset about the fact that a legislator, over twenty years ago, mentioned a lawsuit involving “a burglar [that] fell through a skylight and injured himself only to recover thousands of dollars from the owner of the skylight,” and points to this MS Word account of the case of Bodine v. Enterprise High School to debunk the tale. Those dastardly reformers, misrepresenting the facts once again! (Of course, there are several thousand posts on Overlawyered over the last seven years, and not a one before today mentions this case, so it’s hardly central to the reform movement. It doesn’t appear on the ATRA website, either. But why split hairs when there’s a chance to demonize reformers?)

Except if one actually goes to the document, buried within a lot of rhetoric criticizing reformers for mentioning the Bodine lawsuit, we learn: Ricky Bodine was a 19-year-old high-school graduate who, with three other friends (one of whom had a criminal record), decided the night of March 1, 1982, to steal a floodlight from the roof of the Enterprise High School gymnasium. Ricky climbed the roof, removed the floodlight, lowered it to the ground to his friends, and, as he was walking across the roof (perhaps to steal a second floodlight), he fell through the skylight. Bodine suffered terrible injuries to be sure, though one questions the relevance: if the school is legally responsible for burglars’ safety, it doesn’t matter whether Bodine stubbed a toe or, as actually happened, became a spastic quadriplegic. But I fail to see what it is that reformers are supposedly misrepresenting. A burglar fell through a skylight, and sued the owner of the skylight for his injuries. Bodine sued for $8 million (in 1984 dollars, about $16 million today) and settled for the nuisance sum of $260,000 plus $1200/month for life, about the equivalent of a million dollars in conservatively-estimated 2006 present value.

In other words, a burglar fell through a skylight, and blamed the skylight’s owners for his injuries; because the law permits such suits, and because the law does not compensate defendants for successful defenses, Bodine had the ability to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers for injuries suffered in the course of his own criminal behavior. Bodine’s only hope of recovery is the law’s rejection of proximate cause as prerequisite to liability. Assemblyman Alister McAlister, the Democratic legislator who used the story to push for reform, described the facts correctly. McAllister didn’t mention that Bodine was 19, but so what? He didn’t mention that Bodine was 6’1″ and a waiter, either, and all three facts are irrelevant. Lilliedoll accuses McAlister of falsely claiming that the legal theory was “failure to warn,” but that’s hardly an inaccurate description of a duty-to-trespassers theory: the alleged duty could have been fulfilled by posting visible warnings to trespassers of the dangers of traversing the roof.

Were the skylights safe? Perhaps not; there had been other accidents (all involving trespassers) at other schools, though not long enough before Bodine’s accident for a school bureaucracy to have time to react. But, for most people’s sense of justice, that is hardly relevant: Bodine had no business being on the roof in the first place. In the words of anti-reformer Justinian Lane, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

If this is the best the anti-reformers can do to point out “distortions” in the reform movement, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job. (Earlier in the series: Sep. 17; Sep. 18). And once again, the only people misrepresenting anything are the supporters of the litigation lobby, who once again fail to honestly engage with the reform position in their efforts to rebut it.

Update: David Nieporent notes in the comments:

Ted, you missed the best part of the skylight anecdote. In another post on Tortdeform, Cyrus Dugger approvingly cites a long passage from a book review of an anti-tort reform book. That passage also attempts to debunk the skylight story. But here’s how it describes it:

The actual case involved a teenager who was on the roof of a school and, by the best accounts we can find, was trying to redirect a light because they were trying to play basketball. And while he was on the roof he stepped through the skylight, which had been painted over black. So this may have been a trespasser, but it wasn’t a burglar. (Emphasis added.)

That’s right: in this account which is trying to debunk myths about the case, cited approvingly by Tortdeform, it turns a thief into a guy “trying to redirect a light.”

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Connecticut: “A Superior Court jury has rejected a burglar’s bid for damages for being shot when he broke into a house five years ago. Clarence Wiggins of Waterbury had sued Louis Steponaitis Jr. of Torrington for shooting him in the right arm with a shotgun on Dec. 16, 1998.” (AP/WFSB (Hartford), Feb. 12).