Why I wouldn't take the #badaunt case

Aunt sues nephew for $127,000
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Aunt sues nephew for $127,000 01:44

Story highlights

  • Paul Callan: My colleague Danny Cevallos is too quick to excuse the conduct of the woman who sued 8-year-old relative over an enthusiastic hug
  • It's not just about the insurance, Callan says

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former homicide prosecutor and media law professor. He is of counsel to two law firms: Edelman & Edelman PC and Callan, Koster, Brady & Nagler LLP. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)With all due respect to my good friend, the talented attorney Danny Cevallos, he's making a big mistake in suggesting that he "might" have agreed to represent the so-called "#badaunt" of social media fame in the "Aunt versus the Nephew" case in Connecticut.

I know that Danny is a big movie fan and I would urge him to consider that the world does not need to encourage the production of a sequel, "#BadAunt2" in any American courtroom. After all the quite sensible Connecticut jury tossed this rotten tomato of a lawsuit in under an hour.
Jennifer Connell deserves no hugs for filing a $127,000 lawsuit against the now 12-year-old Sean Tarala for damages allegedly sustained at his eighth birthday party. Sean was so happy to see Connell arrive at the party that he temporarily abandoned his newly gifted red bicycle to exuberantly embrace her. The little 50-pounder apparently hugged a little too hard, causing Connell to fracture her wrist, but with her saying nothing about it to him at the time.
    Instead she waited almost two years before filing a lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court accusing her "nephew" of acting with "negligence and carelessness" in using a "forceful greeting" that any "reasonable " ..eight year" old would know to be improper. Yes, the complaint really says this, as if there are birthday-party-hug training sessions to create "reasonable" 8-year-old boys in Westport, Connecticut -- the site of the accident.
    The complaint also alleges a host of damages above her medical bills, listing pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost income, permanent disability and scarring, to name a few of the many claims. At the trial, Connell actually testified that these injuries were impairing her ability to hold "hors d'oeuvre plates" at Manhattan cocktail parties.
    A sensible jury took less time than it would take to prep and bake a simple birthday cake to throw Connell's lawsuit out of court.
    To counter a storm of social media criticism, Connell recently appeared on the "Today" show and in other media outlets looking for sympathy that the jury refused to supply. Connell's media spin was really quite simple: she has nothing against Sean ,who she loves dearly, but was merely trying to collect money from the insurance company that provided coverage on his father's Westport, Connecticut house, to pay her medical bills.
    In other words this was just a simple "homeowner's insurance case." And she was really quite astonished at having been portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West for suing her 50 pound, 8-year-old "nephew."
    It is true that nobody seems to like insurance companies except, possibly, the people who work for or own stock in them. In fact, insurance companies are such easy targets that the law in the majority of American states forbids any reference to insurance coverage in personal injury lawsuits for fear that the very existence of insurance may cause a jury to award damages in a case where the defendant is entirely innocent of wrongdoing.
    The American system of civil justice is generally based on the assessment of fault. The lawsuit is about whether somebody did something wrong, whether someone was "at fault" in causing the accident. It's not about who has the biggest insurance policy available to pay when no one but an innocent 8-year-old was involved.
    So why not let Connell sue the big, bad insurance company? One reason is that lawsuits like this one may precipitate an increase in everybody's insurance premiums to cover the costs of defending meritless claims. If you were not reckless, careless or negligent in your actions, there should be no verdict against you whether you have insurance or not.
    What is really happening here is that instead of paying for her own medical expenses with her own general health insurance policy, Connell was attempting to shift the costs of her injury to the homeowner's policy which covers little Sean's Westport, Connecticut, house. Maybe it's a better policy than her policy. Maybe the owner of the house doesn't care about the fact that his insurance premiums might have gone up in the future if Connell had won the lawsuit.
    She obviously doesn't care and didn't care that everybody else who purchases homeowner insurance coverage in Connecticut might have had to pay higher premiums for their homeowner coverage to pay the cost of injuries sustained by so-called aunt's attending the birthday parties of their 8-year-old so-called nieces and nephews. By suing the child of the homeowner, Connell also gets to claim such goodies as "pain and suffering," "mental anguish" and other damages not covered by most general health policies.
    But to win such a case she has to prove that the then-8-year-old Sean was legally at fault for the accident. So it's totally disingenuous for Connell and her lawyers to say they are not really suing Sean, it's just the insurance company. No, it's really Sean because unless the 8-year-old is guilty of using the negligent, careless "forceful" greeting never used by "reasonable" 8-year-olds as described in the complaint, Connell loses and the home insurance never comes into play. Except for the purpose of paying the lawyers defending Sean.
    Connell has learned a lesson that seems to have been forgotten in much of modern-day America. It is that unfortunate accidents sometimes happen, for which the other guy's insurance company bears no responsibility. Everybody is not automatically a victim entitled to a big lawsuit verdict because they have had the misfortune of being involved in an accident.
    A small battle has been won here against the forces of "victimology" who seek to turn every injury into an event requiring compensation with somebody else's money. Hopefully the victimologists now understand that birthday parties with fun-loving 8-year-old boys can be dangerous places for those worried about their hors d'oeuvre-plate-carrying arms. You can look long and hard, but even in well-mannered Westport, Connecticut, finding a "reasonably prudent" 8-year-old who hugs with care and responsibility after getting his first red two-wheeler is a most difficult quest.
    So Danny Cevallos, please reject a case such as this one. Let the kids be kids, and not everyone is a victim. And in truth, Connell never deserved the "#BadAunt" hashtag nor even the "Auntie-Christ" moniker used to describe her in one New York tabloid.
    In an ironic twist, she earned all of this scorn on social media when she is not even Sean's true "aunt." She is, in fact, his cousin and carries only an honorary "auntie" title. Now that's a potential lawsuit Cevallos can really consider: The defamation of the "#BadAunt." I'll be at the hors d'oeuvre table when Cevallos brings home the bacon in that one.