The Richmond Register

January 19, 2014

The case of the plastered actor

By Jack Strauss
Register Columnist

BEREA — In the theatrical world, the expression “go out and break a leg” means get ou there and wow the audience. Unfortunately, Norman took the expression a little too literally.

He went out on the stage during a performance one night, accidentally fell and broke his leg. If that wasn’t enough, when the doctor applied the plaster cast he applied it to the wrong leg. When the error was discovered, the cast was removed and another one was promptly applied to the correct leg.

Beside himself by the unfortunate series of events, Norman sued the doctor for damages.

“While I sometimes get annoyed at being miscast by the theater, I shouldn’t be miscast in a hospital,” he complained to a judge.

“It’s not as absurd as it sounds,” responded the doctor. “It was the kind of mistake any doctor could have made. Norman’s fractured leg looked just fine, it was the other leg which had the external appearance of being broken. Besides, since there’s no evidence that either leg suffered an injury because of the error, I shouldn’t have to pay Norman a single penny.”

If you were the judge, would you make the doctor pay Norman for his error?

Here’s how the judge ruled: No. The judge ruled that a person is not entitled to collect damages for someone’s mistake unless he is damaged by it. In this case, there was no evience of any injury to either of Norman’s legs because of the doctor’s error, the judge concluded.

Based on a 1960 California Court of Appeals decision.

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.