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The first day of April marks the annual celebration of pranks and hoaxes known as April Fools’ Day. Shakespeare tells us that the “fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” On April Fools’ Day, the intended fools are those people who fail to make the connection between the date and whatever exceptional and odd thing has been placed in front of them. In the legal world, however, the fools are more likely to be the practical jokers, whose pranks have gone awry, causing injury and resulting in harm to the victims.
In the spirit of the day, the editors of the Jury Verdicts and Settlements team came up with the following list of the Top 5 cases in our collection arising from April Fools’ Day hoaxes and other pranks. This list includes case summaries written by Lexis editors as well as our licensing partners.
On a more serious note, if you are interested in submitting one of your own notable verdicts to be included in our Non-April Fool’s Day collection, we’d be happy to include a report in our database. You can just send us an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
1) High School Softball Player Awarded $1.00 In Civil Rights Action Following Suspension In the Wake of April Fools’ Prank Call: Fires v. Heber Springs School District; 2013 Federal Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 59
Licensing partner Federal Jury Verdict Reporter provided us with the case of Morgan Fires, who made an "April Fools" prank call from a school bus to another player. Fires told the other player that the bus had been involved in a crash, the player’s mother then called 911, and a rapid police response ensued. Fires was suspended from school, and a year later, her parents filed a civil rights complaint alleging her due process rights had been violated. Although the Arkansas federal jury agreed, they awarded nominal damages of $1.00.
2) Middle School Softball Player Awarded $ 117,500 In Civil Rights Action Brought Following Suspension In the Wake Of April Fools’ Website Postings: Ryan Dwyer, by and through his parents, Kevin Dwyer and Rosanne Dwyer v. Oceanport School District, John Amato, James Digiovanna, Mary Bulvanowski, Joseph Henderson, Mary Sharkey, Dr. Serafina Banich, Steven Briskey, Lucille Chaump, Rick Harrison; 2005 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 43222
Licensing partner ALM Media brought us the flip side of a constitutional case involving a student’s April Fools’ Day activity. In this case, eighth grader Ryan Dwyer set up an April Fools’ Day website that aired grievances about his school. Ryan was suspended, received a one month suspension from the school’s baseball team, and was unable to go on the end-of-year trip. Ryan’s parents sued the school district and district officials, claiming that the punishments were done in violation of Ryan’s First Amendment rights. Following cross motions for summary judgment, the school district was determined to be not immune and was found liable. In regard to damages, negotiations returned a settlement of $117,500.
3) Convenience Store Patron Awarded $85,000 For Injuries Sustained After Clerk Mistakenly Believed Robbery Was April Fools’ Prank: Dixie DePietropolo v. Seven Eleven Dairy & Food Store, 7 Eleven Food Stores Inc., Seven 1 Holdings Co. LTD, William G. Rohrer, Chu Hyon Kim, Seimens Business Communications Inc., Siemens Corp, Seimens Communication Inc. and Michael M. Satterfield; 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 205899
Licensing Partner ALM Media brought us the case of Dixie DePietropolo, who was stabbed during the course of a convenience store robbery. She alleged that the store clerk mishandled the robbery, failing to treat it with the seriousness it deserved because he believed it to be an April Fools’ joke. The jury found in DePietropolo’s favor, but reduced the award by comparative fault, allocating 29% of the liability for the injury to DePietropolo’s own negligence.
4) Florida Jury Awards Homeowner $9,603 For Ruptured Achilles Tendon Sustained When Chasing Children Who Had Played “Ding Dong Ditch”: DONALD K. MURRAY and JANET MURRAY vs. JEFF JENKINS; KIM JENKINS; JOSH JENKINS, a minor; JUSTIN JENKINS, a minor; and ZACK MCEACHIN, a minor; 2003 FL Jury Verdicts Rptr. LEXIS 1591
On Feb. 18, 2000, Florida homeowner Donald K. Murray reached the limit of his patience with a group of children who repeatedly rang his doorbell at night and then ran off. When the children rang the bell again after 12:00 a.m., Murray ran outside, shouted threats, and then gave chase to the fleeing children. In the dark, he stepped into soft sand and ruptured his Achilles tendon. A neighbor gave him information regarding the alleged perpetrators of the prank, and Murray and his wife filed suit against the children and the parents who were hosting a sleepover party for the children. The jury awarded Murray only his past medical expenses, reduced by his contributory fault, which was assessed at 80%. The jury found each of the children to be 5% at fault and the parents who hosted the sleepover not to be negligent.
5) Employee’s Pregnancy Is No April Fools’ Joke, And The Employer Now Owes Her $148,340 EEOC v. HCS Medical Staffing Inc., et al.; 2012 WI Jury Verdicts & Sett. LEXIS 42
On April 1, 2008, Roxie Leger was not joking when she told her employer she was pregnant. Although her supervisor originally laughed and referred to it as an April Fools’ Day joke, he quit laughing when she brought in an image of her ultrasound in May. He also was not amused by the idea of maternity leave or paying Leger’s bills under the company’s medical plan. He was, however, amused by the idea of a device that would allegedly reduce the time that Leger would be off work. He showed her documents relating to the 1963 patent application for a device to facilitate birth via the use of centrifugal force. And yes, as probably first imagined, the idea was indeed for a centrifuge-type machine that a pregnant mother would be strapped into, head to center, that would then commence whirling her around and so allegedly exert enough force on the fetus to facilitate if not propel its passage out of the vaginal canal (and into what looks like a net of sorts, strung between the woman's legs).
When Leger was placed on bed rest toward the end of her pregnancy, her supervisor terminated her from her position.
The EEOC was not amused. Neither was the Wisconsin federal jury, which awarded Leger $148,340 in damages, including $ 50,000 in punitives.
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