A jury in New Jersey has awarded $850,000 to a man who got drunk on New Year's Eve and passed out in a snowbank. It seems that two local police departments responded to a 1 a.m. call from an anonymous observer who thought he had seen a man collapse outside a restaurant. Police searched the area and found nothing. Nine hours later, in daylight, a passerby found Frederick Puglisi, who was then revived by police and rushed to a hospital. As Mike Kelly reported in the Bergen Record, ". . . police considered charging Puglisi with drunkenness, but opted not to. Ramsey Police Director Joe Delaney said in a newspaper account at the time that Puglisi had probably learned a lesson already." Not quite. Puglisi sued both police departments, claiming that frostbite damage to his right hand was their fault for failing to conduct a more thorough search. The jury had originally awarded Puglisi $1 million but decided to reduce the prize by 15 percent due to his contributory negligence. Another judge later reduced it by half.
So there it is. You get blind drunk, wander outside in 22-degree cold to find cigarettes, pass out in a snowbank and then sue the police for not finding you sooner. Is this a great country or what?
Actually, that's a serious question.
If a drunk can get almost a million bucks, how much do sympathetic plaintiffs pull in? In Milwaukee, an 84-year-old man who was paralyzed in a car accident received $17 million. Who was to blame? Well, the driver of the car was a volunteer for the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay organization. He was delivering a statue of the Virgin Mary to an invalid at the time of the accident. Lawyers persuaded the jury that the volunteer was an employee of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and assigned damages accordingly.
Meanwhile, in Mississippi, federal prosecutors are racking up indictments against individuals who falsely claimed to have been harmed by the drug Fen-Phen. The Clarion-Ledger reports that Gregory P. Warren recruited clients for Schwartz and Associates -- that is, he recruited people who would claim to have been harmed by Fen-Phen even if they had never in fact taken the drug. Twelve others have already pleaded guilty to filing false claims.