Bye bye finger, hello courtroom?
November 27, 2007 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Neighbour sheers off 1/4 finger looking after another's house. Should he sue?

Ok - this is for my neighbours. They are all nice, reasonable people. The one set (A) are a nice couple - ministers who travel extensively (lucky if they are home one week out of four).

The other (B) is a nice retired gentleman. Over the last several years he has looked after A's house while they were away - plant watering, check-up's, ensure no disasters are occuring (burst pipes, etc.).

B also picks A up from the airport using A's car.

Several weeks ago, B went to get A's car out of their garage to pick them up - and the garage door would not open/close properly.

B (a handy guy, who has taught me a thing or two about garage doors since I moved here) - unhooked it from the chain, and opened it. Then he move the car outside.

Then, B tried to close the garage door. But it was stuck (in the open position). B put his hands above his head, in-between door & frame - and pulled. The garage door became unstuck, garage door was not attached to chain, garage door came down very fast and forcibly.

Garage door took approximately 1/4 of B's finger with it. I helped B get to the hospital while my wife picked up A.

B has been in much pain. B has definately lost the 1/4 finger (my non-squeamish wife found it, we put it on ice and took it with us to the hospital - but it is not healing well.) B has other, serious health considerations that weaking his immune system with a stupid injury is not a good idea.

A has had "issues" with their garage door previously (we noticed it sticking, not opening/closing, etc.)

Should B sue? Isn't this what insurance is for? This is in Canada - does that really make a difference?

In the interests of neighbourly relations - should B not sue? (Does it really matter, if they have insurance - technically a freakish accident shouldn't raise rates?)
posted by jkaczor to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
WTF? How should B sue for creating a situation in which he was injured? You can sue for damned anything but this seems ridiculous. It was B's fault, demonstrably. Dunno how how it works up there in the north.
posted by xmutex at 9:47 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: xmutex - not that I disagree with you, but does:

A has had "issues" with their garage door previously (we noticed it sticking, not opening/closing, etc.)

make any difference?
posted by jkaczor at 9:49 AM on November 27, 2007

No. No one should sue anyone, and B should go back to garage door repair school.
posted by iamabot at 9:50 AM on November 27, 2007

Not a lawyer, but xmutex echoes my thoughts perfectly. Accidents happen and this one seems an unfortunate result of a situation that your friend created for himself. Garage doors are heavy and will do some damage when they come down. I'm sure A feels badly that he injured himself and will help him as much as they can, but I don't think they're obligated.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2007

What on Earth would a lawsuit accomplish in this situation?
posted by Floydd at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2007

This is the sort of situation where people in the US sue for the insurance coverage in order to cover their medical bills. I don't know about Canada, but many US companies would offer a lowball settlement; so yes, this is the sort of thing insurance is for, but insurance companies often need to be prodded into paying up.
posted by TedW at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Should B sue?

There are two issues here that you (and your neighbor) may want to clarify:

(1) Can B sue? This is a legal question as to whether B has grounds to demand some kind of monetary recompense from A. IANAL, but I imagine that, if A's homeowner's insurance does not cover appropriate damages, B is well within his rights to sue A for costs associated with this injury, since it did occur while he was on A's property.

(2) Should B sue? This is a moral question as to whether it is worth the confrontation, expense, and likely damage that it will do to what sounds like an otherwise good relationship. This is for B to decide, but I suggest that he do whatever he can to be appropriately compensated while maintaining a friendly relationship before turning adversarial.
posted by googly at 9:56 AM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You shouldn't sue in a situation like this.

You say "In the interests of neighbourly relations" - well, I'm certain that suing someone would ruin any relations they might have, yes insurance should cover it, but it's still a huge emotional burden to place on someone, over what was an accident.

It was in no way A's fault, accidents just happen sometimes.
posted by paulfreeman at 10:00 AM on November 27, 2007

I can definitely see a reason to have the garage owners pay for medical expenses. Your car, your garage, you knew the door had problems..

The real question is, would he be willing to ruin a friendship over money? Personally I would not. If that had been me, I would blame myself for screwing with the door
posted by Sufi at 10:15 AM on November 27, 2007

(A) knew the garage door had problems with sticking. I'd think he could honestly testify that he did not think this problem would lead to a finger getting cut off.

If (B) had been backing the car out of the garage and the door just unstuck and fell on him, I'd say he would have a better case.
posted by mikepop at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2007

This in Canada? How knows what the laws are up there.

Basic premises liability question here.

B unhooked it from the chain, and opened it... B put his hands above his head, in-between door & frame - and pulled.

Depending on where you live, the answer it probably dependent on whether the state still recognizes the assumption of risk doctrine. It would also be important to know whether B knew the garage door stuck in the past.

Beyond that, the question would also be whether a stuck garage door poses an unreasonable risk of harm.

If you want to know what your jurisdiction thinks about these issues, call a lawyer.
posted by dios at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

From the facts presented here, it seems that B is entirely responsible for the accident. He did something he shouldn't have. There is no causal link between a garage door that occasionally sticks and the accident.
posted by ssg at 10:28 AM on November 27, 2007

Suing should be a last resort. It's open to question whether A should turn to his insurance for compensation for B, and the issue there is whether B has medical costs or lost income to an extent that it would be a hardship for him, and even if that is the case it cannot be assumed that A's insurance would pay anything, because of B's responsibility in the accident.

If B sues A in expectation that A's insurance will step in and pay a settlement, that's not a given. A could very well end up personally responsible for any settlements. I'm guessing B wants some cash, but not for A to lose his house.

In the US, A would be likely to lose his insurance if he files this claim and his next insurer will gouge him for the privilege of taking him on.

Pain doesn't equal money. If B has medical bills that will leave him destitute, than maybe they need to explore the options in the name of neighborly relations, but if he just wants to get paid for hurting himself performing unauthorized repairs on someone else's house, that's not particularly neighborly.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:29 AM on November 27, 2007

Is the garage door considered defective? Is it correctly installed and maintained? The homeowner allowed/ encouraged someone to use the equipment. Homeowner's insurance is for covering accidents and damage. If the housesitter (sorry, but the A and B naming is a pain) has health insurance, and maybe even if not, the housesitter's insurance company or unreimbursed health care provider is very likely to try to recover expenses from the homeowner's insurance.

Should the housesitter get an enormous insurance check for emotional suffering? Nope, and that's not a likely scenario. If the housesitter is uninsured, then by all means, the homeowner should consider putting in a claim for medical costs. Isn't that the point of having insurance? IANAL
posted by theora55 at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2007

People seem to be assuming there are medical costs. This kind of surgery is covered in every Canadian province, I believe. There might be ambulance charges or antibiotic/drug charges, but that's it.
posted by Yogurt at 10:52 AM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: jkaczor, when you say "should B sue?" do you really mean "should B and A work together to see if A's insurance will pay something to cover B's medical bills and related costs?"

There is no question in my mind that B shouldn't sue. The question about getting something from A's insurance company is more complicated, and depends on a number of factors.
posted by alms at 10:58 AM on November 27, 2007

People often sue in these situations to cover medical expenses, but that's in the US. I don't know too much about Canada's apparently awesome healthcare system, but I bet Yogurt is right.

Should B sue? I think it would be kind of absurd, given the friendly relationship between neighbors. But could he? You bet. He could sue for negligence and, with a good lawyer, win. In that case, A's knowledge about the garage door having problems would certainly be important.

In other words, if B thinks monetary compensation for finger loss trumps maintaining neighborly relationships, then he should sue.

I am a law student, but not a lawyer. So please don't take this as actual legal advice.
posted by timory at 11:04 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: Ok - lots of excellent answers - clarifications:

- A definately have home insurance.

So, perhaps "sue" is the wrong word - should "B" simply put in a claim?

In Canada, there are no medical expenses to worry about - any claim would only be for "pain & suffering". In Canada, loosing part of your anatomy does qualify for disability under certain conditions - I once knew a kid, who lose about the same amount of finger in a farm machine accident and was qualified as disabled).

I'm guessing B wants some cash, but not for A to lose his house.

No - B 's family are more likely to push for this than B.
posted by jkaczor at 11:06 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: Oh god, my spelling, diction and grammar is getting worse as the day progresses - maybe 5 hours sleep wasn't a good thing.
posted by jkaczor at 11:09 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: "are getting worse", sigh.

Wow - thanks everyone. Yeah, I think if anyone (... B's relatives) forces the issue, A & B would work together with A's insurance company jointly.
posted by jkaczor at 11:13 AM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: dios

Wow - thanks, your phrasing led me to some further reading - thanks again!
posted by jkaczor at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2007

Thirding the fact that this is an insurance liablility claim that should be filed. Once the insurance company gets involved, they will most likely pay the claim, based on the details presented. Should B quibble about the settlement and actually sue? It sounds like he doesn't want to, his family does, so I'd say no. Also, the insurance company could go after their pay out from the garage door people, if it was defective. Will A's insurance rates go up in the future? Yes. Will they go down again in time? Yes. Just like a car accident. This is what insurance is for. Use it.
posted by rainbaby at 11:46 AM on November 27, 2007

(US Centric answer above.)
posted by rainbaby at 11:47 AM on November 27, 2007

I agree with googly. 'Should' B sue and 'can' B sue are two very different questions.

If the two of them get along well (which seems to be the case) and B is getting appropriate treatment and help from A, then why sue? The only reason would be to get extra money and be an asshole really.

It was obviously an accident. A very unfortunate accident but ultimately unpredictable. 'A' could never have predicted that their garage door sticking on occasion would lead to partial dismemberment of their favorite neighbor.

That's life. Unfortunate for B but I'm sure he'll get by okay without being a dick to some well meaning ministers.
posted by purelibertine at 2:18 PM on November 27, 2007

So medical costs are paid for and you're just asking if he should sue for "pain and suffering"? I don't know about you, but that kinda sounds like a dickish thing to do if all he's trying to do is to punish his neighbor.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:18 PM on November 27, 2007

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