Stella Case No. 084, Originally Published: 12 January 2005
Mary Ubaudi of Madison County, Ill., says William Humphrey was driving too fast and, perhaps, she should know: she was a passenger is his car. When they got to a construction zone, Humphrey lost control and flipped the car. Ubaudi was thrown from the vehicle and, her attorney J. Michael Weilmuenster says, sustained severe and life-threatening injuries.
Ubaudi has sued Humphrey, asking for “at least $50,000″ in damages. Surely if he was driving too fast for road conditions — such as in a construction zone — and caused an accident, he should be liable. And indeed, that wouldn’t make news in the True Stella Awards. But Ubaudi’s attorney didn’t want to stop there: not if there were some potentially deep pockets to pick.
The lawsuit, filed in Madison County Circuit Court, thus also names Rowe Construction for “at least $50,000″, because it was under state contract to do the construction work on the roadway. Ubaudi claims the company “failed to provide proper and reasonably safe traffic control devices for road construction, failed to properly maintain the public highway in a safe and navigable condition during the road project and failed to provide guardrails or railings during the construction project.”
OK, maybe that’s plausible. But that’s still not a deep enough pocket. So Ubaudi has also named Mazda Motors, the manufacturer of Humphrey’s car, a Miata. And what, pray tell, did they do wrong? She claims the company “failed to provide instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt.”
One hopes Mazda’s attorneys make her swear in court that she has never before worn a seatbelt, has never flown on an airliner, and that she’s too stupid to figure out how to fasten a seatbelt. Meanwhile, her suit demands “in excess of $150,000″ from the automaker, setting their liability at more than three times what the thinks the driver should be on the hook for.
- “Driver, Road Contractor, Auto Maker Sued in Accident”, Madison County Record, 18 November 2004.
I did not find the formal conclusion of this case, but did find that Mary Ubaudi died in February 2016 at 57, meaning that she was around 45 when she claimed she needed instructions in how to fasten a seat belt.
Ubaudi was the Winner of the 2004 Stella Awards.
My 2021 Thoughts on the Case
I’m still boggled that any adult would even try to claim they should have been given “instructions regarding the safe and proper use of a seatbelt.”
Note: This was a 2004 case even though it was not published online until just after the new year.
Letters and Comments
Amazingly, there were no letters published regarding Case #83 (Dazed and Confused). But there were plenty of other letters, including this one that led to a mini-editorial:
Kevin, an attorney in West Virginia, writes: “I also want to commend you on being one of the few people who seem to understand the idea of the so-called ‘tort reform’ currently being touted as the cure-all for everything from insurance premiums to the economy at large. The current version of ‘tort reform’ would simply prevent individual persons from being able to sue for redress. Corporations would still be able to sue individuals or other corporations at will, and would have some limited immunity from suit from members of the public.”
I have an advantage over most “tort reform” groups. They tend to serve a particular constituency, such as insurance companies. They want a certain “reform” to serve that interest, and often couldn’t care less about any other problems found in the system.
Tort Reform is often thought of as a “conservative” (or Republican) issue in the sense that lawsuits often target “deep pockets” — corporations. The other side of the coin is SLAPP cases, or “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”, which have been explored in TSA several times. By using the courts, corporations can “SLAPP” at people or interest groups who sue them, or complain about their products, which tie them up in court or bankrupt them with attorney’s fees, effectively shutting them up. Worse, the mere threat of a SLAPP suit can discourage critics from saying anything bad about a real public issue, effectively squelching dissenting voices. That is the sort of legal abuse that comes to mind for “liberal” (or Democratic) causes.
Obviously, neither side is absolute; there is certainly some crossover.
My take on tort reform is quite different: I decry the lack of common sense and the inability to predict in advance whether what you’re doing is “wrong” or not. I believe the problem is systemic, even societal in nature, and thus the “Band-Aid” approach of fixing just one thing will not solve the whole problem we see. Because TSA is not funded by any special interest, I don’t have to focus on any pet cause; I have the luxury of looking at, and explaining to my readers, the whole problem.
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