Pennsylvania: The wolf is at the door

Columnist : Albert Paschall

 (Fairy Tale, PA., August 1999)  Attorneys have filed suit against a hunter who shot and killed a wolf outside of Fairy Tale.  Police refused to file charges against the hunter after interviewing a young girl the hunter allegedly saved when the wolf threatened her.

      According to police reports the wolf had allegedly stalked the girl, who always wore a red-hooded jacket, through the woods on several occasions when the child went to visit her elderly grandmother’s remote cabin.  On the day the incident occurred the wolf allegedly preceded her to the cabin, bound and gagged the elderly woman and put on the grandmother’s clothes.  When the girl arrived she began to question the wolf’s disguise, especially noting his big eyes, sharp teeth and tail.  When questioned by the little girl the wolf allegedly became enraged and threatened to eat the child.  A passing hunter heard the girl screaming “wolf!” then broke into the cabin and shot and killed the animal.

      According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the wolf’s estate the hunter is liable for wrongful death. The suit states that the child’s stereotyping of the wolf enraged the animal and that in fact she had enticed the wolf by intruding into its natural habitat, wearing her red jacket and hood while carrying baskets of goodies.  The suit alleges that both the color red and goodies attract wolves.

      (Harrisburg, PA, August 1999)  In his inaugural address the new president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association said “the fact of the matter is that there is no liability crisis in Pennsylvania.  The fact of the matter is that business is crying wolf.”  He continued: “It is our duty as trial lawyers to prove to our elected representatives the distortions and misstatements which are being perpetuated under the anecdotal guise of tort reform.”

      (Montgomery County, PA, August 1999)  An HIV infected man has named a suburban developer in a lawsuit filed against an adult bookstore.  According to the suit the plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by two other men in a private video booth at the store in 1993 and has contracted HIV as a result of the attack.  The plaintiff never reported the incident to anyone.  The developer is only the landlord to the bookstore and has nothing to do with day to day operations.

      (Philadelphia, PA, August 1999)  A Federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a Delaware County hospital in a “wrongful life” action filed by the family of a physician who had attempted suicide.  The doctor was found in his office at the medical center the morning after he attempted to kill himself with an overdose of several drugs.  He was unconscious but alive surrounded by suicide notes to friends and family.  Emergency room personnel resuscitated him, as they are required to under the law.  However the suicide victim had signed a living will that calls for no extraordinary measures to preserve his life.  His family filed the “wrongful life” lawsuit to secure funds for his care in his now disabled condition.

     (Bucks County, PA, August 1999) The father of a student of the William Tennent High School has filed suit against the district for refusing to allow his daughter to enter the 12th grade.  The girl had contracted Lyme disease during the last semester of the school year and failed to meet attendance requirements.  The suit petitions the court to order the district to allow the child to enter the 12th grade.

     Little Red Riding Hood and her parents should probably have known better than to let the girl walk through the woods carrying enticing goodies while wearing provocative red.  After all wolves live in the woods and they smell those things.  In Pennsylvania it could be her fault.  On the other hand we don’t allow wolves to roam our streets.  If the do they are captured and returned to their natural habitat where they belong.

     There are two fairy tales in this story.  The first is Ms. Hood’s encounter with the wolf and the suit against the hunter.  The second is the notion that there is no liability crisis in Pennsylvania.  Every day every Pennsylvanian that owns a home, a car or a business, every professional that practices in the state, or who serves as an elected official in local government, every citizen in the state who ever pays an insurance premium has the liability wolf lurking at their door.

       For two decades the Pennsylvania General Assembly has allowed this wolf to eat us alive.  In the fall there might be a happy-ever-after ending if the Pennsylvania House passes legal reforms to end abuse of the system.  Seventeen other states have and tamed the beast.  If passed so-called tort reform laws some day might help the truly injured and the intentionally negligent get their day in court while protecting the innocent from laws that are only disguised as justice.