Legally Speaking: Weird laws and lawsuits are universal

By John G. Browning | Nov 14, 2007

This Thanksgiving, I will offer thanks for many blessings: good health, a loving family, and a successful career. But most of all, I am thankful to live in the United States, where there are enough wacky laws and weird lawsuits to keep lawyers busy and to provide a never-ending supply of material for columns like this.

After all, we've got some of the strangest laws around. For example, did you know that in Ohio, it's against the law to get a fish drunk? Or that in Florida, unmarried women who parachute on Sundays can be jailed? How about Kentucky, where it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon more than 6 feet long (which begs the question, how would you conceal it)?

We've also got some of the strangest lawsuits – like the Pennsylvania man who, after being fired by U.S.X. Corporation after 30 years of service, decided to sue God. According to the lawsuit, the Supreme Being had failed to take "corrective action" against those who had wronged the plaintiff.

In addition to unspecified monetary damages, the man wanted to "be young again" and wanted the ability to play the guitar. Not surprisingly, the lawsuit was dismissed, and it hasn't been appealed to a "higher authority," either.

Then there's Timothy Dumouchel of Fond du Lac, Wis., who in 2004 sued Charter Communications.
His complaint?

"I believe the reason I smoke and drink every day and my wife is overweight is because we watched the TV everyday for the last four years," said Dumouchel.

He demanded $5,000 or three computers, plus a lifetime supply of free Internet service from Charter. Dumouchel maintains that he repeatedly tried to cancel his cable service, but that because of a Charter mistake, he and his family had been receiving free cable between 1999 and 2003.

Yes, that's right – Dumouchel was suing because of free service, which he believed had not let him "make a decision as to what was best for myself and my family."

Mr. Dumouchel and the anti-God litigant acted as their own lawyers, which probably should serve as a good sign for the standards of the legal profession.

Then again, maybe would-be lawyers were just too busy, like the California attorney who sued the publishers of the telephone directory. Apparently, her name had been listed in the phonebook under "Reptiles." She sued, seeking $100,000 in compensation for the slight. At press time, there was no word on whether the reptiles had sued for damage to their reputation.

However, strange laws and even stranger lawsuits are hardly unique to the United States. For example, did you know that in France, it is against the law to name a pig "Napoleon?" Or that in San Salvador, drunk drivers can be punished by death before a firing squad?

Perhaps it's no surprise, given the influence of English common law on our own justice system that England is home to some rather odd laws. In the United Kingdom's 2006 Tax Avoidance Schemes Regulations, it is illegal not to tell the taxman anything you don't want him to know, although you don't have to tell him anything you don't mind him knowing. And you thought America tax laws were confusing!

In England, it is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside down and it is actually illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. In addition, it is against the law for a taxicab in the city of London to carry rabid dogs, corpses or individuals with the plague (I feel much safer about taking a cab now).

Wacky lawsuits are apparently not only universal, they have a long and distinguished history. Back in 1874, Francis Evans Cornish, a judge in Winnipeg, Canada, actually had to preside over a trial – of himself. After convicting himself on a charge of being drunk in public and fining himself $5, Judge Cornish then stated for the record "Francis Evans Cornish, taking into consideration past good behavior, your fine is remitted."

He was a lot more lenient than Judge A.K.M. Patabendige of Sri Lanka. In September 2004, Judge Patabenidge sentenced a man to a year in jail for contempt – because he yawned in court.

Our previously discussed friend in Pennsylvania wasn't the only one to take lawsuits to a spiritual level.

In 2005, a Romanian man filed a breach of contract lawsuit against God. His argument was that his baptism constituted to a binding agreement between him and the Supreme Being, under which God would keep him out of trouble in exchange for such consideration as prayer.

In 2006, a young man from Jiaxing, China, tried to put his soul up for sale on an online auction site. Before Satan could switch over from Ebay and pick up a good deal, the posting was taken down by the site. The would-be soul seller was told that his advertisement would be reinstated only if he could produce written permission to sell from "a higher authority."

In 2005, Russian astrologer Marina Bai sued NASA for "disrupting the balance of the universe." She claimed that the space agency's Deep Impact probe, which was due to hit a comet and then harvest material from the resulting explosion, was an "act of terrorism." Although a Moscow court actually decided to hear this loony claim, it eventually dismissed it.

And just in case you thought frivolous lawsuits were a uniquely American creation, meet Jason Davies and his father Evan from Wales. While visiting family in Australia, Evan bought Jason a boomerang. Jason threw the boomerang several times, as did his father and uncle, but wasn't having much success in getting it to come back.

Finally, Jason made a successful throw, and as he turned to flash his dad a triumphant smile, he got clocked in the head by the boomerang, necessitating a trip to the hospital.

Now the Davies family is suing the boomerang's manufacturer, because the device supposedly lacked a warning that boomerangs might do exactly what boomerangs are designed to do!

I guess some things really are universal.

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