Art Museum of Southeast Texas being tripped up

The SE Texas Record Dec. 11, 2010, 8:53am

A trip to an art museum can be an enriching experience, a trip at the museum even more so for a few opportunists.

A popular museum will attract tens of thousands of art lovers every year, and its share of artful dodgers, too -- patrons who are eager to start "collections" of their own with slip-and-fall lawsuits demanding thousands of dollars in compensation for injuries allegedly suffered on the premises.

Payments made to such "performance artists" can deplete funds raised for the purchase of artwork and facility maintenance and threaten a museum's ability to continue its mission.

This year alone, during the 60th anniversary of its founding, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas (AMSET) has experienced two such claims.

On May 28th, Mary Petty of Buna filed suit against AMSET in Jefferson County District Court, claiming she tripped over a raised cement lip on the museum entrance way.

On November 29th, Beaumont resident Geraldine Beckett filed a similar suit, alleging that she tripped over an "uneven pavement" in front of the museum.

If the entrance to AMSET presents a genuine hazard, the museum should rectify it immediately and make restitution to its victims. If, on the other hand, a fall resulted from clumsiness or contrivance, AMSET should protect itself -- and the art lovers of southeast Texas -- from these artful assaults on its assets.

AMSET could follow the lead of City Museum of St. Louis, which fights back vigorously against scammers. On its Facebook page, the City Museum chronicles some of the frivolous lawsuits it's had to defend against in the recent past. With characteristic bravado, it lists the names of the plaintiffs' attorneys preying on it and encourages potential scammers to contact them for representation.

Properly applied, ridicule and stigmatization work wonders.

In the meantime, plaintiffs Mary Petty and Geraldine Beckett – and their counsel, Beaumont attorneys Brett S. Thomas and Kent Johns – could consider redirecting their craftiness into more productive channels.

How about an art class?

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