Now here is an interesting torts lawsuit. Patterson Nissan car dealership of Longview, Texas settled a lawsuit filed by Chalala Gutierrez, the widow of Richard Thomas Vega II. Vega committed suicide after dropping out of a contest in which contestants tried to keep their hand on a truck the longest. When he lost the “Hands on a Hardbody” contest, he walked across the street, stole a gun, and shot himself.
The case seems like a legal version of Sydney Pollack’s 1969 movie, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
The contest was for a Nissan truck and other prizes and contestants were allowed only limited breaks during the 48 hour event. Vega let go just before one of those breaks. Upset, he broke into a Kmart store and stole the gun that he used to kill himself.
The lawsuit suit alleged negligence in the organizing of the contest and accused the dealership of a type of “brainwashing” where contestants “temporarily lost their sanity.” She sought $600,000 and court costs.
This is a considerable stretch for tort law. It is true that in cases like Weirum v. RKO, a radio station was liable for injuries caused to a third party when kids raced to catch a disk jockey (The Real Don Steele) in a van. The court found the resulting accident to be foreseeable. That decision, at the time, was controversial. However, even under a Weirum analysis, I cannot imagine how foreseeable a burglary and suicide would be in such a contest. If this was a foreseeable, Kmart could conceivably sue the dealership for the burglary. This would seem a clear case of a superseding intervening act in proximate cause.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed and the contest has been discontinued. For the full story, click here.