It shot around the Internet yesterday, like so many other viral stories do, and all I could do was roll my eyes. It was the story of an exuberant 8-year-old boy in Connecticut leaping into the arms of his aunt upon seeing her, and her resulting injury, a broken arm.
The story was one that any adult could imagine. The woman testified:
All of a sudden he was there in the air, I had to catch him, and we tumbled onto the ground…I remember him shouting, ‘Auntie Jen I love you,’ and there he was flying at me.”
People were aghast. One only needs to read the comments of any article on the subject. How could you sue a beloved relative? And how could you sue a child?
But suing relatives (or close friends) happens all the time, particularly in auto collisions. Who, after all, are you most likely to be with at the time of a collision? A close friend or relative. Unless you drive a taxi, you don’t often have strangers in your car.
And it’s the same with your home, in that the most likely visitors inside are family and friends.
When I first saw the aunt-nephew story, my first thought was that homeowner’s insurance would cover the incident if there was liability, and that this was similar to suing a relative over a car crash. I tweeted as such:
This is, in fact, one of the reasons we have insurance. To cover us in case we slip up and someone is injured due to our negligence.
Certainly insurance companies would prefer that folks don’t sue. It would be a great business model, wouldn’t it, to keep collecting all those premiums and never pay anything out?
In a story later in the day yesterday, the jury came back with a defense verdict — one juror said the jury simply didn’t think the boy was negligent when measured against the reasonable conduct of a child his age. OK, I can live with that.
At some point we all grow up and become increasingly responsible, and that line of responsibility won’t only be gray for a child’s conduct, but ever-shifting depending on what happened. (see, for example, a 4-year-old sued in NY along with parent for negligent supervision.)
Would I have taken such a case? No. Because the jury did what I expect a jury would do. But eviscerate her on the Internet for it? No. She took the advice of counsel. Bad judgment call perhaps, though the attorneys defend the decision to move forward (see update).
And the injured woman was interviewed and confirmed my thoughts: Suit was brought against the homeowners policy to cover the medical bills, but you don’t sue the insurance companies, you have to sue the individuals. From CNN, who interviewed the Aunt:
“This was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case”
Also at the CNN story, the woman testified that she remains close with the family and recently took the boy (now 12) shopping for a Halloween costume.
As with so many other things on the Internet, many people will howl and yell first due to the way a headline is written, without bothering to think that the actual conduct isn’t particularly egregious. The case may have been a loser, but it was not worthy of spilling all the resulting venom.
Update: On her attorneys’ website is this message about the case and the desire to get the medical bills paid:
“From the start, this was a case was about one thing: getting medical bills paid by homeowner’s insurance. Our client was never looking for money from her nephew or his family. It was about the insurance industry and being forced to sue to get medical bills paid. She suffered a horrific injury. She had two surgeries and is potentially facing a third. Prior to the trial, the insurance company offered her one dollar. Unfortunately, due to Connecticut law, the homeowner’s insurance company could not be identified as the defendant.”
“Our client was very reluctant to pursue this case, but in the end she had no choice but to sue the minor defendant directly to get her bills paid. She didn’t want to do this anymore than anyone else would.” But her hand was forced by the insurance company. We are disappointed in the outcome, but we understand the verdict. Our client is being attacked on social media. Our client has been through enough.”
Updated x2: These are examples of what Twitter has to offer. Remember, this is suit is essentially about whether homeowner’s insurance will pay the medicals. The first from Joshua Carrasquillo of Lowell Massachusetts:
And the second from Brady Ricci of Vail, CO and Los Angeles:
What’s going on is that Aunt Jennifer is pure hellspawn, a mysteriously animated pile of human excrement that embodies the worst of humanity.
This is what happens when people elect to post stuff on the web based on an initial news report that was, shall we say, very selective on what it chose to report.
Update x3: This site is getting quite a bit of traffic, most likely from many who never knew it existed. So let me answer a question some of you may have: Yes, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lawsuits, and they weren’t nearly as benign as this run-of-the-mill kind: On Suing and Being Sued
Update x4: Why did this little suit get national attention? Because of the way the original author wrote it — designed for clickbait, not accuracy. See: The Media Hit Job on the Evil Aunt