Thursday, May 03, 2007

Crazy Pants Lawsuit: A Reply

Many thanks to fellow Georgia attorney Jamie Bendall, the author of this fine piece:

I have a confession to make. I am serial changer of dry cleaners. Maybe
I'll change because I don't like the way my shirts are starched. Once it
was because the clean clothes smelled too much like chemicals. The worst
was when I had to change because I had thought they lost a pair of my
pants. Oh I was sure they'd lost them and man were those pants
comfortable. It turns out the pants were not lost, simply in the back of
the closet. As sorry as I am to admit it, I thought it easier to change
dry cleaners than let them know I'd found my pants.

You can imagine then why I was drawn to this story about the person who is
suing his dry cleaner for more than $65 million dollars over a lost pair of
pants. Now I know what you are thinking, obviously these pants had a
winning lottery ticket in the back pocket when they were lost. That's not
exactly the case. Instead, it's a basic dispute between a business and a
customer that has spiraled out of control. It's my guess that there are
only a handful of reasons why you may have heard about this lawsuit at all.
The first is that person who is suing the dry cleaner is a lawyer, and even
better than that, a Judge. The second is the amount of money, because
let's face it, that is one shocking amount to claim in damages. The third
is it's been a slow news period. The President and Congress are fighting
about to how best end our engagement in Iraq; a woman's right to choose is
being incrementally restricted; it will be at least another two weeks
before John Edwards needs another haircut, and Sanjaya is gone from
American Idol, so there's not much there to capture the imagination between
commercials for all-steel buildings and gold funds.

Thankfully, this story fits perfectly in to established story lines many
people have about the legal system. Even though the most recent studies
have shown that jury trials have been become more and more scarce, people
are still willing to believe that our civil justice system is on the brink
of disaster. The fact that this person, a citizen, can walk right in to
the courthouse, file a lawsuit, and claim that amount of money for a lost
pair of pants, well something simply has to be done about that. That this
person is a lawyer? That just dots the old "i" and crosses the old "t," on
the point that if we don't do something today, like cap damages or abolish
joint and several liability, or grant broad immunity for certain classes of
wrong-doers, then have failed the founders of this country.

Now it's probably time to let you know, if you hadn't guessed, that I am a
lawyer. I'm reading about what lawyers need to do, if anything, to counter the
discussion surrounding some guy who couldn't work it out with his dry
cleaner. It's a pretty sad state of affairs, when such a negative bill of
goods has been sold on an entire portion of a profession that this isolated lawsuit is seen as proof positive of system run amok.

Here is my suggestion, and believe me it's radical. Let the system work.
The person who was missing his pants and the dry cleaner tried to work it
out between themselves and for whatever reason, and whatever we may think
about that, could not. One recourse was to take legal action, and that is
what this person did. What he claimed as damages, and in what amounts,
appear to comply with what is permitted under the law. He has asked,
through the legal system, for the help of his community in the form of a
jury trial, to resolve this matter. Maybe, just maybe, we'll find that he
won't actually get awarded $65 million dollars. I am guessing our system
can handle this one, let's just be patient.

I want to end this a flourish. Perhaps I could mention that the Judge in this case will likely evaluate this case like most of us get dressed in the morning; one leg at a time. I thought I
might suggest that without knowing more about the case, my opinion would likely be hemmed in by what I knew. I also was going to attempt to include a reference to the pleatings in the case, but thought it was too much of a reach, though it seemed tailor-made at first. Instead, I will simply end by alluding to that famous story about the Emperor's new clothes, and
believe that this person, like the Emperor, may soon find that his claims
are wearing no pants.

Jamie Bendall
Bendall & Mednick