Many people will go through life without ever needing a lawyer. Unexpected and strange situations can arise, however, when you will need a lawyer.
The U.S. has over 1.35 million lawyers. Although lawyers often identify areas of practice, most states do not certify lawyers as specialists. For example, a personal injury lawyer is not trained or certified differently than an estate lawyer. Both attended an accredited law school, took essentially the same courses, and passed the same bar exam for admission to practice law.
However, a personal injury lawyer has a particular interest in torts (cases where a person has been wronged by another person or a business). Through knowledge and experience gained in handling these types of cases, a personal injury lawyer develops skills in the field that can give the lawyer insight into how to handle similar cases in the future.
Nevertheless, since all lawyers are required to study tort law, every lawyer has the basic skills to advise you on the basics of personal injury. The difference is that an estate lawyer is not likely to set aside a full schedule of preparing wills and trusts to sue someone who hit you with a golf ball while you were walking your dog in the park.
With that background, here are ten strange situations where you might need a lawyer:
If you have a disability and it can be reasonably accommodated, your employer must provide it. For example, if you have a learning disability, your employer is supposed to provide some assistance in understanding written instructions (such as explaining the instructions in person instead) or transition you to jobs that do not require written instruction.
The strange circumstances come in the disabilities that must be accommodated and the creativity in accommodating them. For example, a warehouse manager with a respiratory disability may be accommodated by moving her to a workspace away from forklift fumes or by installing an ionizing air filter. Likewise, a secretary with dyslexia could be accommodated with a color-coded filing system.
Race and National Origin Discrimination
Some of the most forehead-slapping circumstances come in race and national origin discrimination cases. Whenever an employer, landlord, or operator of public accommodations (like a restaurant, store, or hotel) treats someone differently because of race or national origin, a discrimination case may exist.
Unfortunately, there are many situations where strange and completely tone-deaf treatment of people have triggered discrimination complaints. For example, in one California case, a business owner decorated the office with Confederate flags and gave an African-American employee a handbag with a Confederate flag on it as a Christmas gift. In another case, trucking company supervisors used racial slurs and scheduled Latino and African-American drivers for less desirable and lower-paying routes.
Discrimination can also occur in housing. When landlords refuse to rent or file an eviction based on the tenant’s race or national origin, the landlord has violated U.S. civil rights laws.
For example, in one particularly strange case, a white landlord evicted white tenants because the couple was visited at their rented home by African-American friends. The landlord’s intent was allegedly made clear by the way she used racial slurs when telling the tenants to move out.
Medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider, such as a nurse, doctor, hospital, or urgent care clinic, provides medical care that fails to meet the most basic standards that a patient may reasonably expect.
While these cases are no laughing matter, these cases occasionally come with strange and head-shaking facts. In one case in Florida, a series of mistakes made by administrators, nurses, and doctors led to the amputation of the wrong leg. In a case in Washington, a surgeon removing a tumor left a 13-inch long metal surgical instrument inside the patient’s body.
In each of these cases, the hospital, the doctor, and the staff failed to exercise reasonable care in providing the medical procedure. Their negligence amounted to medical malpractice.
Dentists are not immune to malpractice claims. Whether they are treating a dental emergency or providing routine care, dentists and their staff must provide care that adheres to the standards reasonably expected for the dental problem.
Some strange cases, however, can arise when minor dental problems grow into life-changing injuries. In one case, a patient suffered from an abscessed tooth that had caused facial swelling and severe pain. Rather than ordering emergency surgery, an oral surgeon scheduled an appointment a week away for a routine tooth extraction.
The patient went to the emergency room the evening after the dental appointment with fever and chills. The emergency room doctor also failed to appreciate the severity of the patient’s condition and admitted the patient as a routine infection case. At some time during the night, the patient stopped breathing and suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen.
In that case, the dentist, the doctor, and the hospital all bore some responsibility for the harm that the patient befell.
When you are injured in an accident that was caused by someone, or something, else, you may need to hire an attorney to make sure you are compensated by the responsible party. However, some strange circumstances have given rise to auto accident claims.
In a very famous case in 1974, Charles Bigbee was injured when a drunk driver struck the phone booth he was in. In fact, he was very seriously injured including the amputation of one leg.
He was able to recover some compensation from the drunk driver’s insurance and the bar that served her and allowed her to drive away while visibly intoxicated. This case was one reason bartenders cut off customers who are visibly intoxicated and offer to call a cab for them.
However, the famous part of the case is that the phone booth was also defective. The victim saw the car coming but was unable to open the phone booth door to escape. Worse yet, the phone booth was placed at the intersection to replace another that had been hit in a different auto accident. The phone company that placed the phone booth at an intersection known to be dangerous and the phone booth maker that produced the defective door settled with the victim for their role in his injuries.
Negligence is not limited to doctors and auto drivers. Hairdressers and other service providers must exercise reasonable care in providing services. Among the most common reasons for lawsuits against hairdressers are scalp and eye injuries.
For example, thousands of women get hair extensions every year. Done correctly, they can thicken and lengthen hair realistically. Done incorrectly, they can lead to permanent scalp damage and even baldness in a condition called traction alopecia.
If a hairdresser is negligent in performing hair services, a lawsuit may be filed for “hairdresser malpractice.” Similarly, if a hairdresser fails to warn customers of the hazards associated with hair services or give instructions about care to avoid harm, it might also amount to negligence.
For example, the use of chemicals to dye, curl or straighten hair can cause skin irritation, eye damage, and respiratory problems. Misapplying these chemicals, or failing to warn customers who have sensitivities about the dangers the chemicals might pose, could form the basis of a negligence lawsuit.
Breach of Contract
A contract is a mutual agreement for an exchange of consideration. This is a legalese way of saying two parties promise to do something for each other. For example, if a plumber promises to fix your sink and you promise to pay $25 per hour for the plumbing work, you have a contract. This is true even if there is nothing in writing. The contract arises from the promises, not from a piece of paper.
Almost everyone has heard of the building contractor who started a job and never finished it. This is a common basis for a breach of contract lawsuits. However, one of the stranger cases of breach of contract involved the reverse situation.
In Florida, a contractor advertised that he was licensed, bonded, and insured. It turned out that he was not. A customer hired the contractor to renovate a bathroom. When a customer discovered his falsehoods about having the proper license, he fired the contractor and stopped payment on the check used for a down payment on the work.
In a strange turn, the unlicensed contractor sued the customer for payment for work that had already been completed. The customer lost the lawsuit and had to pay $2,592 for the work that had been completed. However, the contractor was subsequently fined $3,000 by the state of Florida for performing the work without a license.
A lawsuit for property damage usually falls under the same theory of negligence as personal injury lawsuits. That is, if someone entrusted with handling your property fails to exercise reasonable care, they can be sued for negligence for any damage they cause.
For example, if you take your car to an auto repair shop and they drop your car off the lift, you may be able to show that their negligence was the cause of the accident. If they were negligent, they will have to reimburse you for the property damage.
Similarly, if you hire a moving company and your furniture is damaged during the move, you may be able to show that the moving company is liable for the damage.
However, there are some important limitations in property damage claims.
- You need to be able to document the condition of the property before and after the alleged negligence to establish the extent of the damage. The first defense in most property damage claims is “it was that way before we touched it.”
- You may need to submit a claim to the negligent party’s insurance first. Their insurer could deny the claim or pay the claim at much less than the cost of the damage.
- Some industries, like interstate trucking, is governed by federal shipping laws and, thus, might be immune to lawsuits in small claims or state courts.
Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause health problems years or even decades after the initial exposure. As a result, it can be difficult to establish causation. Some medical conditions have only a single cause and can readily support a case of toxic exposure. For example, mesothelioma can only be caused by asbestos exposure. However, other conditions might be more difficult to link to a particular chemical.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified many chemicals that can result in injuries and diseases. For example, the federal government banned lead-based house paint in 1978 and the EPA is responsible for overseeing the regulations used to remedy lead contamination.
However, when someone’s injuries or diseases are due to a toxic chemical that is less studied and unregulated, causation may be difficult to prove. For example, lawsuits over glyphosate pesticides (marketed commercially as Roundup) began in 2015 and have only recently began to be decided as more evidence suggests a link between the chemicals and cancer. As of 2019, over 47,000 lawsuits had been filed over the chemical’s effects.
Some of the strangest facts come from product liability cases. A manufacturer, designer, or seller of products may be liable for injuries caused by them if the product contained a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or a warning defect. This is true whether the products are paper ribbons or tractor engines. Briefly stated:
- Design defect: The product is inherently defective and is dangerous even if it is perfectly manufactured and used in accordance with appropriate warnings. For example, lawn darts were pulled from the market because weighted darts thrown by children so they would stick into the ground were inherently dangerous.
- Manufacturing defect: The product is manufactured in a way that fails to meet the designer’s standards and caused injuries as a result of that failure. For example, tires with layers that are too thin or are unevenly manufactured so that the treads separate during ordinary use contain a manufacturing defect.
- Warning defect: The product is not accompanied by a warning needed to use the product safely. For example, cigarettes were marketed for decades without any warnings despite tobacco companies’ knowledge that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
One well-known product liability case is the McDonald’s hot coffee case. While it was ridiculed at the time, some important facts are left out of most descriptions.
The victim suffered third-degree burns as a result of the coffee. Further, the restaurant knew that the temperature of the coffee was too hot to drink and it had been sued over 700 times in ten years over injures caused by their hot coffee. As a result, the jurors awarded $3 million in punitive damages because they felt the restaurant had not taken the risk seriously in continuing to serve dangerously hot coffee despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints and lawsuits.
There may be strange facts that arise in lawsuits. However, if your legal rights have been infringed, you have the right to hire a lawyer and vindicate your rights. Whether those rights arise from tort law, property law, or contract law, speaking to a lawyer may help you to sort out your course of action to make sure responsibility for the harm you suffered falls on the party causing the harm.