Strange case files from the legal world
Here’s everything you need to know this week in the law.
No Humor for Dead Fan
In the “Bizarre Suit of the Year” award, attorney Joel Bander, a big fan of the Grateful Dead, sued his legal partner for “pushing my buttons,” specifically putting up a fake tombstone in his office the day after Jerry Garcia of The Dead died. The mock tombstone for Garcia was inscribed with the question: “Too many parties, perhaps?” The case was eventually dropped.
KFC Finally Wins
Loyal fans read about this case twice before in The Law Review as it wound its way to the California Supreme Court. A customer had a gun stuck in her back by a robber who demanded that the cashier open the register and hand over the money. The KFC clerk stalled by insisting she did not have a key for the register. The then very agitated robber pushed the gun a little harder into the back of the customer and screamed at the clerk: the robber panicked and ran and has never been captured.
Two lower courts determined that The Colonel had a duty to comply with the armed robber’s demands in order to reduce the threat to the safety of its customers – an opinion criticized in this column. Retailers in the state were concerned about the decision. Worry no more. The Supreme Court reversed favoring KFC in a 4-3 decision. The Supreme Court suggested that the outcome might be different if an employee engages in “active resistance ” to a robber that might provoke a robber to hurt a patron.
Under the ruling, businesses probably are not liable if employees passively resist a robber, such as delay in turning over the money or hit a silent alarm, but may be responsible if an employee actively resists a robber and somehow causes a store patron to be injured or killed.
Coppola Vs. Sagan
In a suit likely to garner public interest, director Francis Ford Coppola sued Carl Sagan, one of the country’s best-known scientists, who died recently. The suit involves the movie royalties to Sagan’s best-seller Contact, a story about human’s first encounter with extraterrestrial life. The movie is in production with a cast of heavyweights, including Matthew McConaughey (A Time To Kill), James Woods and Tom Skerritt.
Coppola contends that the book grew out of an idea for a television show that was created by Woods in the 1970s. Under the alleged agreement between Coppola and Sagan, which was detailed in a four-page letter signed by Sagan, Sagan had a right to write a book about the topic but any other projects, such as a movie, were to be joint ventured between Coppola and Sagan. While the book may be fiction, the suit is not.
In another case that makes lawyers cringe, one Janette Weise sued K-Mart for damages she allegedly suffered after she pulled out the bottom box in a stack of four boxed blenders at a K-mart store and had a pile of blenders fall on her. She sued claiming pain and carpal tunnel syndrome – of all things. Maybe there’s more to the story than meets the eye, but the jury didn’t think so and took just half an hour to rule for K-mart.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is also a mediator and a Commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates political candidates and elected officials.
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