A Tort Reform Case Study: Acts of Kindness Should Not Be Punished
February 8, 2005
A hotly debated issue in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress is about what should be done with out-of-control, frivolous lawsuits. I'm talking about the subject of tort reform.
While the average American may not completely grasp what tort reform is, most of them would undoubtedly rally behind it if they had an example of why it is needed.
And now we have one out of Durango, Colorado.
Last Thursday, La Plata County Magistrate Doug Walker ordered 17-year-old Taylor Ostergaard and 18-year-old Linsey Jo Zelitti to pay a woman $930.78 for medical bills she incurred after the two girls left a gift of one dozen chocolate chip and sugar cookies on her doorstep with a note stating "Have a great night. Love, The T and L Club" at 10:30 p.m. on July 31, 2004.
At face value, most people would think there has to be more to the story than that. What dastardly act did these girls commit that would warrant such a judgment against them?
Unfortunately, that is basically the substance of what instigated this lawsuit against the teenaged girls.
When 49-year-old Wanita Renee Young alleged she became so terrified by the knock at her door by the girls that she called the sheriff's department, she said the presence of the girls at her door forced her to go to the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center the next day because she allegedly suffered an anxiety attack that she believed was a heart attack because she couldn't stop shaking and had an upset stomach. Young told the court she was assaulted by a neighbor in 1990 and thought that person was back to seek revenge against her.
And when she was a child, I bet Young got her way every single time or she pitched a fit! The true motivation of this despicable woman is nothing more than greed to get as much money as she could out of this. Young was desperately hoping the judge would also order punitive damages for the "pain and suffering" she incurred because of this incident. Thankfully, the judge did not grant Young any additional money.
Can you believe we live in a country where someone can blame a medical injury like this on two people who were merely showing an act of kindness toward their neighbor? What is this world coming to?
Ostergaard and Zelliti made nine total deliveries that night along their street and six of them vouched in letters to the court that they enjoyed the delicious surprise from their young neighbors and were not scared when they were delivered. Even still, Young got her medical bills paid for and still blames the innocent girls for what happened to her.
"All I wanted was for those girls to admit they used poor judgment and apologize in person," Young told the Durango Herald on Friday. "If they had done that, I wouldn't have even asked for the money. I just hope they learned a lesson."
Young is exactly what is wrong with our tort system today. Why should she be awarded a judgment for something so frivolous when there are genuine complaints that need to be addressed? And what message are we sending to the youth of our country if they cannot do a simple act of kindness without worrying about the liability involved in doing so?
There is some good news regarding this story. A Denver radio station KOA-AM heard about this and raised nearly $2,000 on Friday to pay for the fine the girls were ordered to pay. The girls again showed their class and kindheartedness when they decided to donate the leftover money to a charity honoring the victims of the Columbine High School tragedy.
Since this judgment against Ostergaard and Zelliti was announced, a restraining order on Young's husband has been issued because he has been calling Ostergaard's personal telephone number making harassing calls.
Is that not sickening to hear? It wasn't enough that a judge granted her a judgment for her medical bills, but now she has to sick her ruthless husband Herb on these girls who certainly meant no harm by their actions.
Young claims her "phone hasn't stopped ringing" and that her "life has been threatened" because of this incident.
While nobody condones that kind of behavior towards Young, it does not give her husband a right to terrorize the families of the girls involved. What would Young do if Ostergaard decided to sue her over these threatening telephone calls in the same way she was sued? Can anybody tell me the difference?
And therein lies the crux of the problem being discussed regarding tort reform in the United States. It has become way too easy to sue for anything and everything. If something goes wrong with me in my life, then I'm gonna sue! Everything is somebody else's fault and they're gonna pay! Sadly, this is the mentality of so many in this country.
The girl's parents attempted to settle this out of court with Young by agreeing to pay for her medical bills if she would release them from further damages. But Young refused to sign the release and did not believe the hand-written apology from the girls was genuine because it was not in person.
Afterwards, Young feigned she was merely protecting the teenaged girls by taking them to court because "something bad could have happened to them."
Oh please. This lady and her husband sound psycho to me and I am very surprised a judge ruled in her favor.
How many more Youngs will be awarded judgments that punish acts of kindness?
The need for tort reform is now. Remember this story the next time somebody says tort reform is unnecessary.