The Case of the Lightning Strike

In forwarded e-mails across the country are many stories of frivolous lawsuits with huge payouts.  First, there is the story of Kathleen Roberson who won $780,000 after breaking her ankle tripping over her own son in a furniture store.  Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 when a neighbor reversed over his hand with a Honda Accord.  The court knew that he had sustained this injury in his attempt to steal the hubcaps, yet ruled in his favor anyway.  The case that I am about to present to you is almost as silly as the first two, but the tone of the article is perfectly serious one in a national publication (Reader’s Digest).

Van Maussner and three of his friends went golfing at a country club in Atlantic City.  The skies were dark with rain clouds, but the sports enthusiasts would not allow it to put a damper on their time.  After they reached the 12th hole, Maussner was struck by lightning and nearly died of his injuries.  Later, he sued the course for negligence, as they did not have the “proper safety procedures in place to protect patrons from lighting”(Gerber, 152).

He lost at the lower court, but won at the Superior Court who ruled, “injuries through acts of God don’t exempt courses from liability”(Gerber, 153).  Is it any wonder why frivolous lawsuits flourish when companies are liable for events beyond their control?  Whatever happened to checking the weather report before going out and a little thing called personal responsibility? This paper will examine the case of the plaintiff and isolate the flaws in his argument.

First, the article mentions that the men “prided themselves on hitting the links throughout the year, regardless of the weather”(p. 151).    This point is relevant because it would imply that it did not matter what the weather channel or club personnel warned—they would have gone about their business regardless.  In fact, the club checked the reports before allowing them on the course in the first place since there was no mention of lightning in the forecast.

In a similar case (Ned P. Harris v. United States of America) the plaintiff was going rock climbing when he was struck by lightning.  When it came to court, the judge dismissed the case because, “He saw no power in the plaintiff’s argument that the National Park Service was to blame for his current situation”(Percelay, 68).

The second argument the plaintiff made was that there was no system in place to protect players from inclement weather.  In fact, the club had an evacuation process for more than 40 years: at the first sign of bad weather, employees would cart around the golf course and warn players off.  In fact, two caddies tried to get the group to seek shelter, “but the men decided against it”(Gerber, 152).

Third, it was further argued that “the country club did not have signs posted about its evacuation plan, nor did it begin telling players to seek shelter at neighboring houses until after his accident.  If the club had proper precautions in place, he would not have suffered the injuries”(Gerber, 153).  Under U.S. Law, if a corporation has an evacuation procedure in place but does not utilize it correctly, it may be held liable.

Under scrutiny was “whether the club [promoted safety] in the way it posted evacuation notices and monitored dangerous conditions, and if it should have built shelters and provided and audible signal”(Gerber, 153).  Would such a system truly prevent lighting strikes in the future?  History has shown a large number of people knowingly venture out in spite of unfavorable weather conditions, i.e. storm trackers, scientists, the curious, and the careless.  Anyone that exposes themselves willingly to extreme weather takes his own life in his hands.

In sum, the article tried to achieve balance by including both sides of the story.  However, in creating sympathy for Maussner by implying the negligence of the country club, Gerber tacitly encourages the abdication of personal responsibility for universal liability if it includes the possibility of safety for everyone.  Also, frivolous lawsuits give rise to more frivolous lawsuits.

Five years ago, (9 years after Maussner’s case was settled) obese teenagers sued McDonald’s for making them fat. “McDonald’s is responsible for their obesity because it did not provide the necessary information about the health risks associated with its meals”(Santora).  This was the first case of its kind heard in court.  In order for society to get back on track, people need to assume responsibility for their own choices and accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
Works Cited

Gerber, Robin. “You Be the Judge: When lightning strikes a golfer, is the country club at fault?” Reader’s Digest. August 2007, pp. 151-153

Percelay, James. Whiplash!: America’s Most Frivolous Lawsuits. Riverside, NJ: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Santora, Marc. “Teenagers’ Suit Says McDonald’s Made Them Obese.” The New York Times. 21 Nov. 2002 Accessed 20 Aug. 2007 at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A0DE7DC1439F932A15752C1A9649C8B63