08:44 18 Jul 2003

If you’re not familiar with The Stella Awards, it’s a free e-mail newsletter that highlights the lowlights in the American legal system. For example

Shawn Perkins of Laurel, Ind., took his family to Paramount’s Kings Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio, on 12 June 2001. As they left the park to go to their car, a thunderstorm was approaching. As the family reached the car, lightning struck and “the car [Perkins] was touching was blown apart,” claims the family’s lawyer, Drake Ebner.

Um, a lawyer for a lightning strike? Yep. This was no “act of God”, Ebner says. “That would be a lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction in these types of situations, frankly,” he says, clearly expecting criticism over the suit. He says the amusement park has “a duty of ordinary care” to warn visitors of any foreseeable danger, and the Perkins were not warned about the storm. The amusement park “could have told the people not to go to their cars,” he says, “which are large metal objects that can attract lightning.”

(He didn’t happen to mention that cars are isolated from the ground by tires, which are medium-sized rubber objects that insulate things. But I digress.)

“A lot of voltage passed through his brain,” Ebner says. His suit, filed in Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court, says that as a result of the lightning strike Perkins is suffering from brain damage, which has resulted in a “cognitive deficit and severe memory loss”. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ebner notes Perkins also has a fear of being outside.

“We believe that the weather system was predictable,” Ebner continued. “Therefore, the risk and injury to Mr. Perkins was predictable and therefore avoidable.” If the park didn’t know about the storm, he adds, it should have known, perhaps by subscribing to a weather prediction service. “If you are a multimillion-dollar business, wouldn’t you?” Ebner asks. However, he quickly adds, “I’m just not mentioning [the park’s multimillion-dollar gross income] for the concept of deep pockets for the suit.”

There are also usually several sources linked. Like I said, the newletter is free, but the stories aren’t posted on the website, so you have to subscribe to get them. The newsletter contains some advertising and the inevitable testimonial for their premium (read: non-free) subscriptions, but I’ve been a subscriber for over a year and find them amusing. Even if only to make me feel so much smarter than those guys that spent so much time and so much money on so much school.