Koulmey v. Sweeney – Pasta throwing leads to a $100K jury verdict

A real life food fight resulted in a lawsuit that awarded the plaintiff (Constance Koulmey) over $100,000 in Connecticut. Yup, a man threw a bowl of pasta in a restaurant and the woman who was hit by accident was awarded just over $100,000 by a jury.  How? There were several factors that played into this jury verdict, one was my favorite tort rule from law school. The eggshell plaintiff, meaning you take the plaintiff as you find them.

Rottenstein Law Group has great definition of what the eggshell plaintiff or eggshell rule is: The “eggshell skull” or “eggshell plaintiff” rule states that someone who harms another must pay for whatever damage the injured person suffered, even if it was much worse than anyone would have expected.

Courtney Koulmey, the plaintiff and the woman hit by the pasta with spicy sauce, suffered damage that was listed in the complaint. James Sweeney, the defendant and man who threw a bowl or plate of pasta at a man sitting next to him, claimed that some of the damage was due to her fragile state and he should not be responsible.  A first year law school student will have learned about the eggshell rule and will tell you that no matter how “normal” a person looks if you gently tap them on the head and they die because of an unusually thin skull that you did not know about, you are still responsible for their death.  Yes, that really is the example that is often told in law school. So, I am a little disappointed that a lawyer would try and use that as a defense.

Additionally, there was the issue of battery listed in the complaint.  Here is another example of a rule I love, you don’t have to touch the person to commit battery. Yes, if you throw something at someone and it hits them that counts as battery.  Now, this case is a great example of how you can have battery but not assault and battery.  The woman hit, by accident, by the bowl of pasta had battery, but if the bowl hit the man the defendant was yelling at it would be assault and battery.

What the article points out that is often misunderstood by many, is just how long it takes for a case to get to a jury.  This incident happened in March of 2015 and the jury did not hear the case until May 2018.  That is three years after the incident happened, and paperwork to indicate there would be a lawsuit was probably filed within a few months of the incident in the restaurant.  Some of the time was spent disposing witnesses, getting evidence of medical bills and such, some negotiations to try and avoid going to court, and then scheduling a court date (among a few other required routine things involved in filing a lawsuit).  But, this is a great example of how lawsuits are never brought into court as quickly as they are on TV.  The time in the courtroom may have short and the time the jury spent deliberating was few hours, but look at how long it took for this case to get there.

This is a such a great case that highlights basic rules of law in what appears to be a straight forward case, that I hope this gets into future casebooks.

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