The Ever-Widening Search For Deep Pockets

I could fill this blog with litigation horror stories, but there is no need when Walter Olson does such a good job.  If you read his blog much, one of the themes than runs through the cases he highlights is the ever widening search in every case to find the deep pockets.  Unfortunately for trial lawyers, the person who is truly at fault, ie the drunk driver that runs down a pedestrian, seldom has deep enough pockets to produce a really satisfying fee.  So you gotta be creative.  This is to be expected.  What is not to be expected is the lengths to which the judicial system goes to validate this search (via Overlawyered):

The state Supreme Court has ruled that store owners can be sued for causing
injuries in a drunken driving accident if they sold gas to an intoxicated

The court ruled in a lawsuit filed by two men who were severely
injured in 2000 when they were struck head-on by Brian Lee Tarver, who later
pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving under the influence.
Before the accident, Tarver bought gas at an Exxon owned by East
Tennessee Pioneer Oil Company.

Fortunately, I guess, Exxon is used to getting sued for damages by drunk drivers

This case I wrote about previously is one of the best examples I have seen of how liability goes to the deep pockets, not the guilty:

Car veers into
truck's lane...and so a jury has ordered the trucking company, Auction
Transport Inc., to pay $22.5 million over the resulting injuries to a
young passenger in the accident, which occurred at rush hour on Kansas
City's I-435. Mary Coleman's car, allegedly sideswiped by a third
vehicle, had careened in front of the truck, but attorneys argued that
the truck driver had been "driving too fast in congested traffic and
not watching the road." The jury found the trucking company responsible
for just less than half the fault of the accident -- a greater share of
fault than the allegedly sideswiping driver -- and Coleman for hardly
any of it.

So, surprisingly enough, three
vehicles involved, two with limited resources and one with deep
pockets.  Guess who is liable - the deep pockets of course, despite the
fact that he was the only driver among the three who stayed in his lane!

Now, here is the thought experiment.  Move the truck with
deep pockets into any of the other two roles.  Imagine first that it
was the car that nudged the plaintiff into the other lane.  Imagine
next that the truck was the one nudged into oncoming traffic and hit
the plaintiff.  In these two cases, if they had gone to trial, who
would have gotten the blame?  I would bet you that in either case, the
truck with the deep pockets would have been given most of the blame in
either of these cases.

So where is the fairness?  Why should blame be based on
bank account size, and not actual actions?  Is there anything more than
coercive wealth transfer going on here?  Does this constitute justice?


  1. Overlawyered:

    Sell gas to drunks, pay for their crashes

    "The [Tennessee] Supreme Court has ruled that store owners can be sued for causing injuries in a drunken driving accident if they sold gas to an intoxicated driver." Employees at an Exxon station on Rutledge...

  2. Matt:

    There's a semi-credible argument for causation to be made when suing the bar where the drunk driver got drunk...but suing the station that sold him gas?

  3. KipEsquire:

    You're omitting critical facts. The guy was so falling-down drunk that he couldn't work the pump and the station attendant had to pump the gas for him.

    Don't start at the end, start at the beginning: would a reasonble person sell gasoline to a visibly intoxicated driver so impaired that he couldn't flip a pump lever?