04 July 2007


In what is getting my vote as the silliest lawsuit ever, good sense has prevailed in the District of Columbia and a plaintiff has lost a case against a dry-cleaner.

The plaintiff in this case was no ordinary plaintiff, though. In this case, Judge Roy L Pearson, Jr attempted to extort sue the, um, pants off a humble everyday dry-cleaner over a missing pair of pants for USD 67 million.

During the case, the plaintiff was portrayed as a "bitter, insolvent man" who was solely motivated by greed. The defence clearly got that one right.

Pearson lost.

I've said on many occasions that tort law is sorely in need of reform. The one thing about torts is that it is one incredibly subjective area of the law, and the whole common law thing about it has proven to be time and time again, simply wrong.

Now, in Australia (as in most places around the world), we hear cases like this go on in US courts all the time and we say that it could only happen there.


Australia started getting a wave of stupid and silly lawsuits in the nineties as a result of pushy plaintiff lawyers proving that tort law is yet another weapon for greedy miscreants who just want to benefit at the expense of other people, and certainly not in a just fashion.

I once listened agog as a friend of mine with a background in litigation reeled off a string of precedents that would provide you with a fair chance to sue the roads authority for not keeping the road dry.

I've long held that some kind of legislation should be enacted explaining exactly what it is that can and can't sue someone for. And how to calculate the penalties.

In the early noughties, a wrestler at a gym in Melbourne (Foscolos v Footscray Youth Club and Parker, [2002] VSC 148) sued his trainer (and the gym) for over AUD 5.7 million and won, bankrupting the trainer. The grounds that Justice Bongiorno gave in this case were loss of future earnings.

Having a background in financial planning, I quickly did the mathematics and worked out that, based on our learned justice's calculations, every single financial planner in Australia was recommending serious under-insurance in the disability insurance area. By a factor of 75% of the kinds of figures that Bongiorno was coming up with.

That's some serious under-insurance.

Never mind what cases like this one do to legal liability insurance premiums.

Anyway, maybe now, after the Pearson case, common sense will prevail in this area of the law that has gotten completely out of hand.

And I would like to thank the judge in this case for awarding against Pearson, who must have been sniffing his undies when he dreamt up this ridiculous case.

I'd also like to call on the District Attorney for DC to prosecute Pearson for contempt of court. Clearly, this was an abuse of process and of the court itself. Especially since Pearson would have been well aware of this.


Don said...

The bad news is that, as I understand it, the poor emigrant Asian couple that owned the dry cleaners were functionally bankrupt thanks to legal fees long before the damn thing even made it to trial.

This is an even more dispicable use of the legal system, and one of which, as an entrepreneur in the geek recreational business, I am all to aware: big fish, so to speak, have the ability to sue smaller folk knowing they will lose and still ruin the competition anyway. Your only chance at that point is to get a judge good enough to cause the Big Fish to pay your legal fees for wasting your time and money.

Dikkii said...

The worst part about this was that Pearson is a judge himself.

I know that judges aren't supposed to sympathise with small fish (or anyone) and are supposed to, ideally, be as objective in applying the law as a cyborg, but this was appalling. Pearson essentially attempted to abuse the law to further his own financial wellbeing.

Big fish shouldn't get away with this.

Let's hope that your enterprise stays out of harms way, legally. Common law favours the rich.

Don said...

New news: the Chinese couple is suing Pearson for damages. If the forceful ruling against his insanity is any indication, he will probably be forced to pay them.

Dikkii said...

That's good news, and I hope that they succeed.

The only problem is that I suspect that Pearson is close to insolvent. Which means that they won't see a cent.

KitKat said...

I'm surprised it got as far as it did. How much of other people's time and money was wasted before it got before a judge who could officially declare him a jerk?

If he'd sued for the price of the pants plus, say, a hundred bucks time/pain/suffering, you'd say fair enough, - maybe.

Dikkii, was there a double meaning in your heading "Pants!"? When I first saw it, I thought it was to do with the English slang term: if something is "pants" it's crappy, feeble, weak, as in "That's so pants!"

Dikkii said...


Didn't know about the English slang.

I just used it because the word is far funnier than "trousers".