063: “Hindsight, of Course, Is a Marvelous Thing”

Stella Case No. 063, Originally Published: 27 August 2003

John Kincannon, 46, was a successful attorney. He practiced real estate law in Irvine, Calif., and was a “prominent litigator,” said the Kincannon’s family attorney, Wylie A. Aitken.

Kincannon lived in a nice Orange County house with the requisite swimming pool. He was not above cleaning it himself, either. One day, he was skimming debris from his pool with a net on a long metal pole when he noticed that a palm frond was hanging from a power line in the yard. Apparently wanting to keep everything tidy, he decided to pull the frond down with the tool he had at hand — the metal pole.

Not surprisingly, Kincannon was electrocuted.

“Hindsight, of course, is a marvelous thing,” attorney Aitken says, with no sense of irony. He notes the victim “was only being a good citizen in trying to get rid of this palm frond,” as if it was bothering anyone but Kincannon.

063: “Hindsight, of Course, Is a Marvelous Thing”
“Due to the short duration of patents at the time,” SCE explains, “Thomas Edison allowed electric utilities to use his patents if they used his name. This is why there are many utilities which include the name ‘Edison’ but are not affiliated with each other.”

Naturally, like most electric utilities, Southern California Edison runs what they call an “aggressive” ongoing publicity campaign to tell people not to try to get things out of power lines by themselves, urging them to call the company for help instead.

“It’s tragic what happened to Mr. Kincannon,” says SCE spokesman Tom Boyd. But, he adds, considering the company has worked hard to keep people from getting anywhere near the power lines, “we’re a little surprised that we might be served with a lawsuit.”

Lawsuit? Heck yeah — we can’t have the untimely death of a high wage earner go without someone to blame, can we? Thus Kincannon’s widow, Francilene, has sued Edison in Orange County Superior Court. The suit also names Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies, because the skimmer pole didn’t have a warning label on it to tell people that it’s not smart to stick metal poles into overhead power lines.

“There’s a great deal of information not available to homeowners like Kincannon,” Aitken claims. Well, yeah, apparently it’s only “available” to the people who choose to look at the common sense information put in front of them.

Edison has devoted more than reasonable resources to warn its customers about dangers that should be obvious to all, let alone a highly educated person. And what silliness for the widow to claim yet another warning label in an already overcrowded sea of caution notices would have helped when common sense didn’t.

Sure, it’s sad that Mrs. Kincannon must continue on without her husband’s lucrative salary, but blaming others for the foolish choices Kincannon freely made on his own is a ridiculous abuse of the system. There’s only one other person who could possibly be to blame here, but Charles Darwin is exempt from court actions.


  • “Death Suit Names Utility”, Los Angeles Times, 19 August 2003.

Case Status

I was not able to find any mentions of the suit’s resolution online.

My 2021 Thoughts on the Case

Absolutely I feel for Mrs. Kincannon: it’s a rough blow when your husband dies suddenly at 46. But his death is his own fault: he was a very well educated man who made a boneheaded mistake. That’s why high earners have life insurance: to protect their families in the case of untimely death. A successful lawyer could easily afford it, and it’s likely he had a hefty policy. Blaming a corporation that has done anything, let alone a significant campaign to remind consumers that electricity is dangerous puts the case onto the frivolous side, and I’m not at all surprised to not find any mention of a settlement or award.

Comments and Letters

Last week [in 2003] I gave a talk at the annual conference of the Colorado Defense Lawyer’s Association. (Defense lawyers are the attorneys who defend against lawsuits.) The conference organizer, a Denver attorney who admits he really enjoys reading TSA, warned the attendees in his introduction that “Randy’s ire is not directed only at plaintiffs’ lawyers. He will feel free to take potshots at defense lawyers too when they deserve it.”

Potshots? Never! Deserved criticism? You bet. And boy, what rapt attention they paid. They laughed in all the right places, too, even when they had to laugh at themselves.

Next, the letters on the case of the newspaper food columnist who paid the paper’s “spiritual advice” columnist $2-3 million for “spiritual self-healing treatment” before waking up and deciding that, perhaps, the spiritualist just could be taking advantage of her. She sued, apparently thinking she deserved a refund of the money she freely paid the woman, though she claimed “I’m not doing this for money. I’m doing this because I think people should be accountable for the harm they cause me.” And here you thought “The Me Generation” was over!

Jonathan, a journalist and the worship director at his church in Sweden: “I can’t make my mind up which part is the most sickening. But my gut turns inside out when anyone offers ‘spiritual advice’ for the sums that were involved here! TIP: If ‘spiritual advice’ comes at a price, don’t even take a slice. True spiritual advice is for FREE — and any serious pastor, minister or counselor would agree.”

Jerry in Pennsylvania: “As a retired journalist, I am flabbergasted at the suit filed by the food columnist against her paper’s ‘spiritual adviser’ (which sounds an awful lot like a gussied-up astrologist). The foodie claimed she paid the necromancer $2 million for spiritual advice. What I want to know is, WHERE DID SHE GET THE MONEY? I was a copy desk chief (which outranks most food columnists) at a much larger and better-paying paper, and I never had a couple of hundred bucks to spare for such entrail-reading.”

I of course wondered that too. The only clue I could find was that was one of the problems she went to the spiritualist for was help for her “unhappy marriage.” I’m guessing there’s a positive feedback loop involved there….

Mary in Texas apparently supports the suit: “I must say, from what can be gleaned from the bit of information in the article you wrote, it appears we have a very clever con artist here and a person that was basically brainwashed. Reynolds was apparently depressed and not doing so well psychologically. In that state it is not difficult to con someone into thinking that they should give exorbitant sums for nothing more than companionship. Reynolds apparently needs help, sane help, and Trafford should give her ‘gift’ back. That is just ridiculous.”

But Brent, a videographer in Florida, disagrees: “I find an interesting dichotomy in our social viewpoints when religion is used as a tool for fraud. I tend to agree with your implied viewpoint, that if you’re stupid and/or gullible enough to hand your money over to a ‘spiritual advisor’ in the first place you deserve to be taken, but society encourages people to do exactly that. How often do we read where someone is publicly lauded for their wonderful sense of charity because they donated thousands to a church, while the accountability of the church is often no better than that of Ms. Trafford? And I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been told by fervent believers that the objective truth of religion’s claims is immaterial, that all that matters is that it makes people feel better to be told their loved ones are in a heaven (or similar afterlife paradise).

It seems that it’s perfectly okay for religions to defraud believers with unproven and specious claims, so long as they do so on a regular basis and in smaller amounts, but when someone gets greedy and uses beliefs to collect large sums of money, they are suddenly frauds — yet countless other preachers use the spiritual dependency of followers to sway their voting, their lives, and exert influence. I think we need to develop consistency in how our laws treat claims made by religion/ists with other business claims. If a company claims its product will cure your warts, and it doesn’t work, you’re entitled to a refund, and if it is discovered that the company knew it didn’t work but promised results anyway, they can be prosecuted for fraud. Why not hold religious claims to the same standard?”

You’re sort of arguing my point, Brent. When people give money to their legitimate, mainstream church (however you’d like to define that), we don’t expect something in return or demand the money back if whatever “miracle” you’re hoping/praying for doesn’t come through. Mrs. Reynolds freely chose her spiritual path, and now wants a jury to second-guess her own decisions. How is that reasonable?

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