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Monday, 27 July 2009
A Boy named Sue

It isn't about the cash (geddit?). Caitlin Moran argues that when people sue, it's because they want mummy to sort it out.

This week, a family in Saudia Arabia took a genie to court — accusing it of threatening them, stealing mobile phones and throwing stones. “We began to hear strange sounds,” the head of the family, who comes from Mahd Al Dahab, told a local paper. He did not want to be named.


But really — is suing a genie any odder than any one of six dozen high-profile lawsuits we’ve had over in the supposedly more rational West? We have, after all, had a man sue for emotional distress after finding a woman in the men’s toilets, a surfer suing another surfer for stealing “his wave” and a man who sued Disney World after an employee told him that he was standing in the wrong queue, causing him to “faint from humiliation” and injure himself. Obviously these are the more ridiculous “stunt” lawsuits — the flashers on the legislative football pitch — and they were all, reassuringly, thrown out very early on in the proceedings.

But then, are these kind of — to use the technical term — “freakin’ nutso lawsuits” actually so odd? When you look at them a little longer, you realise that, often, they tend to get launched in vacuums where proper philosophical debates should have occurred on a subject, but which — for one reason or another — we just hadn’t got round to yet. All over the world, people are basically launching lawsuits when they are a bit confused by life and just want someone bigger than them to come along and sort it all out for them.

The man who donated a kidney to his ill wife, only to sue for its return when they divorced, was a case in point. Obviously, until very recently in human and medical history, the exact moral position on giving a major organ to someone — only to subsequently start hating their guts and wanting to hack it back out with a pair of scissors — was uncharted territory. To be frank, we hadn’t gone anywhere near it. If you Google the phrase, “Am I unreasonable to want my kidney back now my wife’s buggered off?”, you get literally no answers.


Similarly, last year, the 77-year-old playboy Rolf Eden sued the 19-year-old model Katharina Weiss, after she refused to sleep with him. He claimed it was prejudice — ageism — and basically tried to prosecute her into bed. And in many ways, who, again, does not feel a sneaking sympathy for Rolf Eden? Who has not, on occasion, wanted to sue someone for not being blown away by how amazing you are?

“Have you seen my LOVELY HAIR?” you shout, in your mind. “Do you not register my WINSOME YELLOW TIPPY-TAPPY SHOES? Are you unaware of how other people ACTUALLY FOUND THAT ANECDOTE ABOUT THE BARGE HOLIDAY AMUSING? I will see you in court, my friend, where Lady Justice will force you to make sweet love to me.”

Ultimately, in these kind of court cases, you can see the vestigial tail of the emotions that prompted them, and it is this: deep down, everyone involved wanted someone’s mum to come into the room, and say, “Adam, don’t punch Jimmy in the elbow. Jimmy, give Adam back the miniature Slinky. Friends? Friends. Now — bugger off up the garden and don't come back until teatime.”

This, I suspect, is the real reason why judges wear wigs and gowns — to look a bit more like mums. The gavel-banging — that recreates the sound of a smack across the back of the legs. And “Case dismissed” is “Bugger off up the garden” for 56-year-old men in suits.

Posted on 07/27/2009 8:56 AM by Mary Jackson
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