Last month, Virginia's Supreme Court handed down a decision that still has us scratching our heads.
The story goes like this: Tyler Baumann, age 17, got into a fight with Allen Capozio and took a licking. Tyler's parents sued on his behalf to recover the $27,000 spent on medical bills. Before the trial date, Tyler turned 18 and, no doubt following sharp legal counsel, filed a separate lawsuit and settled the matter for $75,000 and released all defendants from liability.
Tyler was a happy man-boy, but his parents weren't thrilled. They still wanted to recover their medical expenses. The question for the court was whether Tyler's settlement had also released the defendants from his parents' claim.
The Virginia Supremes said no, that there were two causes of action here: one by man-Tyler for pain and suffering, and one by the parents of boy-Tyler for their expenses.
The court strung out enough precedents to convince us the decision was square as far as the law is concerned. And the lesson for defendants is clear: Watch out when you settle lawsuits with kids who have just turned 18.
But this story doesn't quite gel as a family matter. How do you suppose it would have played out as an episode of "The Waltons"?
"So, John Boy," says Papa Walton, "I spend $25,000 to stitch your sorry hide back together. You turn 18 and collect 75 grand, but you're not going to pay me back?"
If John Boy refuses, the script can only go one way. The two retire to the woodshed, where Papa gives man-boy some more of what Capozio gave him.
We concur. We could cite precedents. But rather than have young Baumann suffer another whipping, why not change the law to allow only one lawsuit per injury?