On the whole, I think our civil legal system gets a bad rap. It has flaws like everything else, but too often it’s the flaws that are highlighted rather than the good that it does. Plaintiff’s lawyers fight for individual victims, they root out corporate malfeasance, and they punish multibillion dollar companies for shitting on their employees, their customers, or the environment.
However, that’s never highlighted as much as, say, Hulk Hogan going after Gawker, or the woman who was made an example for the need for tort reform after she spilled hot coffee on her lap and sued McDonald’s (in reality, she was absolutely right to sue McDonald’s and that lawsuit brought about a necessary change).
For all the good it does, however, tort law will continue to be defined for other people by its worst examples. For instance, this week, a Los Angeles judge ruled that the survivors of the 2012 Aurora Massacre would have to pay Cinemark $700,000.
Wait, what? The survivors?
Yes. The survivors — some of whom were badly injured in the Dark Knight theater shooting — sued Cinemark, alleging that the theater chain failed to protect them from James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 others during a 10-minute shooting rampage. A judge, however, ruled that Cinemark could not be held liable because the chain could not have foreseen the massacre. The judge was not wrong; there’s no way Cinemark could’ve anticipated the actions of a mad man.
The loss, however, triggered another law that leaves losing plaintiffs in a civil trial responsible for paying legal fees, meaning that these plaintiffs — who have suffered profoundly — will have that suffering compounded by a judgement against them.
Cinemark is highly unlikely to seek to enforce the judgement, but it’s still a slap in the face, especially after the plaintiffs rejected a settlement offer the day before that would’ve given them something, a pittance though it was ( $150,000 split among the 41 plaintiffs). According to the LA Times, the judge encouraged them to take the settlement, but one plaintiff — who was paralyzed in the shooting, lost a baby, and had a child killed — rejected the settlement because, for obvious reasons, she didn’t think it was enough.
It’s just a sad, sad situation all around.
Meanwhile, Subway fuck-o Jared Fogle — who is currently serving 15 years in prison for child pornography and for having sex with 14 minors — is suing the parents of one of his victims, alleging that the cycle of despair and depression that the minor blames on Fogle was actually the fault of her parents. The girl says that she suffered emotional distress because Fogle distributed nude photographs and videos of the girl, and she is seeking $150,000 from Fogle.
Fogle, meanwhile, is suing to have her parents added as defendants, suggesting that they are equally responsible for her mental state.
The motion says that the victims’ divorced parents “maintained a hateful and abusive relationship toward each other, which included, but was not limited to, engaging in frequent fighting and arguing between themselves; abusing alcohol and getting drunk; and engaging in frequent fighting, physical abuse, and arguing with Jane Doe, which caused Jane Doe to suffer from emotional distress, anxiety, and major depression before she learned of any allegations involving” Fogle and the Taylors.
The motion also alleges that Jane Doe’s parents’ lack of supervision led her to engage “in various harmful activities, including, but not limited to, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, self-mutilation, and sexual activity with multiple partners” before the victim learned she had been secretly photographed.
It’s super messed up, because if he succeeds in proving the parents were partially responsible, their percentage of responsibility will be subtracted from the eventual verdict against Fogle.
It’s the unfortunate nature of the legal system, however. Laws that were designed for the right reasons — to spread fault to all negligent parties, or to prevent plaintiffs from bringing nuisance suits — are often used for the wrong reasons (to avoid full responsibility or to thwart reasonable lawsuits).