Myles M. Mattenson
ATTORNEY AT LAW
5550 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Suite 200
Woodland Hills, California 91367
Telephone (818) 313-9060
Facsimile (818) 313-9260
Email: MMM@MattensonLaw.com
Web: http://www.MattensonLaw.com
The Sky Is Falling! Can I Sue?

      Myles M. Mattenson engages in a general civil and trial practice including litigation and transactional services relating to the coin laundry and dry cleaning industries, franchising, business, purchase and sale of real estate, easements, landlord-tenant, partnership, corporate, insurance bad faith, personal injury, and probate legal matters.

      In providing services to the coin laundry and dry cleaning industries, Mr. Mattenson has represented equipment distributors, coin laundry and dry cleaning business owners confronted with landlord-tenant issues, lease negotiations, sale documentation including agreements, escrow instructions, and security instruments, as well as fraud or misrepresentation controversies between buyers and sellers of such businesses.

      Mr. Mattenson serves as an Arbitrator for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He is also past chair of the Law Office Management Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Mattenson received his Bachelor of Science degree (Accounting) in 1964 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola University School of Law in 1967.

      Bi-monthly articles by Mr. Mattenson on legal matters of interest to the business community appear in alternate months in The Journal, a leading coin laundry industry publication of the Coin Laundry Association, and Fabricare, a leading dry cleaning industry publication of the International Fabricare Institute. During the period of May 1995 through September 2002, Mr. Mattenson contributed similar articles to New Era Magazine, a coin laundry and dry cleaning industry publication which ceased publication with the September 2002 issue.

      This website contains copies of Mr. Mattenson's New Era Magazine articles which can be retrieved through a subject or chronological index. The website also contains copies of Mr. Mattenson's Journal and Fabricare articles, which can be retrieved through a chronological index.

      In addition to Mr. Mattenson's trial practice, he has successfully prosecuted and defended appeals on behalf of his clients in various areas of the law. Some of these appellate decisions are contained within his website.


THE SKY IS FALLING! CAN I SUE?

 

"One day, when Chicken Little
was scratching among the leaves,
an acorn fell out of a tree
and struck him on the head.
 
'Goodness gracious me!'
said Chicken Little.
'THE SKY IS FALLING!
I must go and tell the King.'"
 
A children's folk tale.

 

A few years ago, employees at a Honda Dealership in Santa Ana, California, according to a California Court of Appeal decision, "watched a corporate jet fall out of the sky. They feared the jet would crash into them. They feared injuries from the ensuing explosion." The jet did not strike them, but rather, crashed upon nearby ground.

The corporate jet being substantially larger than an acorn, and in the absence of any monarchy in California, the employees elected to go and tell the judge.

The employees thus sued the owners and operators of the jet claiming "mental anguish" as a result of the crash. The trial court dismissed the case and the employees appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Recourse to the Court of Appeal did not prove fruitful. The Court of Appeal confirmed that not every emotional distress caused by another's negligence entitles the injured party to damages. The Court of Appeal observed that, "No one, saint or sinner, can go through life without `negligently' inflicting emotional distress on others." To make the point, the court cites a dissolution of marriage action and notes that "heartache and pain are inherent in certain human relationships."

Although this may come as a surprise to some, courts occasionally disagree with one another and reach diametrically opposed conclusions.

In a federal action entitled In Re Air Crash Disaster near Cerritos Cal., "a couple at home heard two loud noises and suffered severe shock and fright when two airplanes collided in mid-air and crashed 100 yards away." The federal court concluded that California law would "permit the couple to recover for their emotional distress damages, albeit with one judge dissenting because the couple did not actually witness the crash." The federal courts have their own procedural law, they are required to follow the substantive law of the state in which the federal court is located.

Interestingly, in the Honda employee case, the California Court of Appeal disagreed with the federal court's interpretation of California law, and observed that, "The law can hardly permit a major tort suit for unpredictable emotional distress damages for every near-miss and otherwise uneventful unsafe lane change."

In a refreshingly clear statement of the issues, although relegated to a footnote in the case, the Court observes:

"Breathes there a soul who has not witnessed an accident or two over the past few years? Or at least had a driver come speeding up from behind and momentarily worried that a crash was imminent? The bottom line of our dissenting colleague's analysis is that all witnesses to an accident who momentarily fear for their safety but who otherwise escape -- indeed, those who fear for their safety even when there is no accident but merely a close call -- may sue the wrongdoer for money as compensation for emotional distress. Wow! If this were the law, insurance premiums would skyrocket and the courts would groan from the sheer weight of litigation. The ultimate lawyers' paradise would have arrived: everyone would be suing everyone."

Not only do the federal and state courts on occasion disagree with one another, judges within the same court frequently disagree. Thus, we have the concept of a majority opinion and a dissenting opinion in the same judicial decision.

In this action, the majority, reaching into its erudite bag of legal phrases, observes that the nature of a pure emotional distress claim is "loosey goosey". The majority also cites the Dreamworks SKG production of "Saving Private Ryan" and notes that "Private Ryan, the fictional embodiment of a generation of World War II veterans, stoically endured the death and dismemberment of close comrades who gave their lives to rescue him, and then went on to live a productive life."

The dissenting opinion acerbically notes that the majority rejected the claim because of "what they label the loosey goosey concept of emotional distress." The dissenting opinion continues: "Actually, my brethren are just unimpressed with `weak' people . . . . if they had their way, we would all be certified war heroes. We certainly would not reward those whose succumb to fear as a result of someone else's negligence." In case you thought that the emotion gene has been excised from judicial DNA, this dissenting comment should dispel you of the thought. Substitute your favorite epithet for "my brethren".

The moral of the story? Not every lawsuit concludes with a happy plaintiff! Chicken Little was gobbled up by Foxy Loxy on the way to tell the king. Some plaintiffs are gobbled up by litigation expense on the way to tell the judge!


[This column is intended to provide general information only  and
is  not intended to provide specific legal advice; if you have  a
specific  question  regarding the  law,  you  should  contact  an
attorney  of your choice.  Suggestions for topics to be discussed
in this column are welcome.]


Reprinted from Fabricare
Myles M. Mattenson 2009