US aunt v nephew birthday hug case would require a litigant-in-person on these shores … or an English Saul Goodman
A top personal injury law firm has rejected the idea that a family member could sue one of her own for injuries caused by a “poorly timed hug” on English soil — although concedes that such a claim would be technically possible.
Yesterday, the world gaped in amazement at news that a New York woman had sued her nephew, 12, for $127,000 (£83,000) for an accident that saw her break her wrist.
Jennifer Connell, 54, took legal action against her 12-year-old nephew, Sean Tarala, for negligence over an incident that occurred four years previously. The then eight year-old reportedly jumped on his unsuspecting aunt at his own birthday party. This caused Connell, who works in HR, to fall back and break her wrist.
Despite the young boy weighing just under four stone at the time, Connell reports that the incident has caused her long-term mobility problems — her injury has made it difficult for her to manoeuvre around crowded Manhattan and to hold her hors d’oeuvre plate at parties.
Connell’s claim was thrown out of court in just 25 minutes. But the fact that she was able to bring it as far as the courtroom leads us to question whether equally outrageous claimants exist in the UK. Alex Kenny, of north west personal injury giant Fletchers, does not think so. Describing the case as “like something Saul Goodman might take on”, he comments:
You often read about unbelievable personal injury claims like burglars suing the homeowner for injury or injury claims following a particularly violent game of conkers, but usually these are a blend of myth, public hysteria or simply odd cases that got through the cracks.
On whether a claim like this could be brought before UK judges, he adds:
I am not sure this client would find any lawyer to represent them in the UK.
But Kenny does note that UK litigants acting in person are free to bring bizarre claims to court:
In this country, you don’t always need a lawyer to bring a claim, so anyone in theory could issue a claim at court as a litigant in person. That said, you have to then look at whether any of these claims actually succeed.
Connell was represented by US attorney William Beckert, who is reported to make up one half of Connecticut-based law firm Jainchill & Beckert. The personal injury specialist prides himself on offering “guidance” and “assistance” to those “presented with an unexpected event in their life”.
Perhaps Beckert will be less willing to offer assistance to such over-zealous claimants in the future when he experiences the fall out from the case — or perhaps it’s all good publicity. His involvement in Connell’s claim has been criticised in the American blogosphere, with Courtroom Strategy commenting:
Lawyers, myself included, get solicited by clients all the time who want to bring baseless, ridiculous lawsuits like this. I usually tell them ‘You don’t have a case. It’s called ‘Life’.’ The vast majority of lawyers would have told Ms. Connell the same thing and that this lawsuit wasn’t just a bad idea — it was a nonsensical and immoral idea. But not Bill.
Since the story hit the worldwide headlines, Jainchill & Beckert have released this statement:
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.
Judging by the intense backlash against Connell — who is being dubbed the ‘Auntie Christ’ — don’t expect any disgruntled English litigants in person to follow suit.