Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't Drop Dad!

A Phoenix family is suing everyone connected with the funeral of their father.  The Associated Press reports:  "Lawsuits filed by the children, wife and two dozen family members of 50-year-old Robert Gowdy Sr. claim a strap on a casket-lowering device snapped as family was gathered around a grave last year, dropping Gowdy's coffin and breaking it open. Cemetery workers ran away, the family said."

When two family members stepped forward to try to lift the casket, the bottom fell out, literally. Apparently, the casket was of particle board and staple assembly.  Nice.

At the subsequent closed coffin memorial service family members opened the coffin to take a last peek at Dad only to find that he was dressed like a used car salesman wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart in seriously mismatched clothes.  Dad's precipitous fall from the cheapo casket damaged the "burial clothes" purchased for the first go-round.  The funeral home decided not to incur the additional expense of re-attiring Mr. Gowdy with all the splendor of his first fitting.  Real nice.


  1. bring back funeral pyres. it's romantic, it's clean, and a great occasion for a party.

  2. A young lawyer that worked with me for a while ended up as counsel for a insurance company doing defense work for commercial entities--in one case a funeral home. The funeral home got sued for mixing up bodies.

    He came to me to discuss defending the lawsuit, my advice was complete contrition--and, a reminder to the jury that his client (sleazy funeral home guy) was a heart-broken member of the community just like them. I think the jury awarded something like $75,000. He's lucky, it could have been a lot more--amazingly, the family or their greedy attorney didn't think it was enough money so they appealed. The appellate court vacated the jury award and gave the family zero.

    The decision turned on the details and of the tort claim of "negligent infliction of serious mental distress," and who at law possesses such a claim.

    I really need to talk about-->Palsgraf. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad is the seminal tort claim authored by Benjamin Cardozo, one of the greatest of all jurists. Palsgraf is the touchstone for understanding "civil personal injury" lawsuits. I'll get to it...

  3. Cardozo--didn't they name a law school after him? I await your insights--my husband and I just got into a heated discussion about this "tort reform" business vis a vis health care costs. I think if people can't sue drug companies, drunken doctors and the like, there will be no incentive for these greedy bastards to clean up their collective and respective acts. He thinks that all this litigation is driving up insurance costs, I think that conservatives have inflated this problem for their own nefarious idelogical ends...and so on. Interested in reading what you think when you get to thinking about it.

  4. Benjamin Cardozo said at a wedding he was officiating in 1931: "Three great mysteries there are in the lives of mortal beings: the mystery of birth at the beginning; the mystery of death at the end; and greater than either, the mystery of love. Everything that is most precious in life is a form of love. Art is a form of love, if it be noble; labor is a form of love, if it be worthy; thought is a form of love, if it be inspired."

    Thus inspired, let me weigh in on "tort reform" or as the plaintiff's bar says "tort deform." I practiced tort law for 28 years, and to the extent that I'm permitted by the disciplinary authorities, I still defend companies against tort claims. I believe in tort law for several reasons not the least of which is that tort law suits, despite the absurdities that I highlight, here, and which are fodder for politicians and the conservative commentariat--make the world a safer place. More importantly, tort lawsuits not only are good for business tort lawsuits make it possible for businesses to function year to year and expand oveseas because torts enable commercial entities to manage and budget risk and loss. Imagine Union Carbide at the time of the leak of methyl isocyanate gas that killed approximately 26,000 Indians in Bhopal, India. Tort and International tort claims practices made it possible for that company to survive (it eventually became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical.)

    As globalization developed the cry of many International Corporations was that this or that developing country did not "respect the rule of law," Gayle, I assure you standardized tort claims is an essential part of that practice. Let me give you an example out of the news from last month, China reported that it executed the CEO and another official with one of the milk producers that sold dry milk products laced with melamine. In countries without tort claims systems commercial disasters can be handled given enough political pressure through the criminal process--the tort system at least creates standardized civil procedure where economic grievances can be handled if not efficiently at least abating social and economic devastation for companies and the injured.

    Are there excesses? Of course! Are there abuses? You bet, anytime money exchanges hands there will be gypsy, tramps and thieves and that's just the lawyers. Again I refer you to your local yellow pages for physical evidence. But trust me, notwithstanding what the health insurers, Big Pharm, and their wholly-owned political class--say, they could not function without an operative tort system.