Christmas Torts: The 2018 Listing Of Holiday Mishaps and Madness

440px-MerryOldSantaBelow is my column in the Hill Newspaper on an annual list of Christmas torts and mishaps. Santas feature prominently this year.

 

Christmas is finally upon us and lawyers will soon be nestled all snug in their beds while visions of contingency cases dance in their heads. ’Tis the season for holiday mayhem and many families will serve up not just Christmas tortes but Christmas torts. Indeed, the miracle of the holiday can be found in the many mishaps that result in no carnage or charges. The holidays are made for sugar plums and slip-and-falls. With crowds, long distance travel, dry Christmas trees and hectic shopping added into the mix, the conditions are ripe for accidents. Ice, snow, alcohol, strained family relations, faulty lights and stress do the rest.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, roughly 200 homes burn each year due to Christmas tree fires, at an annual cost of $14 million. The University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety analyzed 10 years of state car crash data and found that the most perilous are the “shopping days before Christmas.” The six days before Christmas accounted for 18 percent more auto accidents than the Thanksgiving period and 27 percent more than the days around New Year’s. According to AAA, roughly 30 percent of all car accidents occur in parking lots.

Santas feature prominently this year in holiday incidents. Over a dozen rowdy Santas were arrested in Hoboken, N.J., at “SantaCon.” They were not the only inebriated elves out of control. In England, Father Christmas appeared on the streets of Warrington as excited children poured out of their homes. People, however, were soon pulling children back as the red-faced Santa screamed, “I can’t stop! The clutch has gone,” as his vehicle sped past the children, unable to stop.

At least, the Warrington Santa was allowed on the road. In Brighton, England, Santa was barred from riding his motorized sled last week after lawyers demanded a roll bar and seat belt. The sleigh moves at five miles an hour. Instead of the Santa that has appeared for 40 years, children saw a creepy, translucent Snow Queen dummy.

Of course, sometimes Santa himself can be his greatest menace. In Gulfport, Fla., a charity decided to have Santa arrive by parachute for children awaiting presents. The problem, as shown in a viral video, is that the Santa proved less nimble with chutes than with reindeer. Gerald Krokus first hit a tree and then a light pole. The perplexed children then watched Santa carted off by EMT elves with a broken leg.

Santas are not the only hazards on the road. According to a AAA, 20 million Americans who purchased a live Christmas tree in the last three years did not properly secure it to their vehicle. Road debris, including poorly secured Christmas trees, cause more than 200,000 crashes that resulted in 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths over the past four years. Two-thirds of those accidents are caused by poorly secured items on top of cars.

I certainly made my contribution. Years ago, my wife and I set out for our annual holiday drive to Chicago with a van filled with four kids and a dog. We quickly packed a new luggage carrier solid with the gifts for our young children for the trip. We were on the highway at midnight when we heard a massive bang as our overstuffed carrier broke open in the middle of a two-lane highway. All of the wrapped presents were strewn across the highway and ground into holiday chum by 18-wheelers moving at 90 miles an hour.

Unable to find a flashlight after pulling over, I borrowed my six-year-old son Jack’s pretend video camera to use its light. I assured him that nothing would happen to his cherished gift. That is when the cord of the camera caught in the automatic closing van door and smashed it on the asphalt. I returned with a single pair of gift pajamas with a tire mark, and we drove the 12 hours to Chicago trying to figure out how we would buy a van full of toys in the next 24 hours.

Many of the holiday torts incidents occur indoors due to either poor cooking or poor company. There is the preparation of food for large numbers of people with a mix of ad hoc and alcoholic measures. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England has actually launched a new education campaign to get people to “avoid the Turkey trots” by taking basic protective measures. The FSA found that 69 percent, or 11 million people, cooking frozen turkeys for their Christmas dinner fail to use sanitary measures, leading to high risks of food poisoning.

In many cases, the problem is simply one of close proximity. Some families, like Santa, should only visit but once a year, if that. In Red Lion, Pa., Karen Elaine Harrelson, 52, was arrested for allegedly assaulting Kayla Renee Still with the family Christmas tree. The fight apparently started over Harrelson lighting a cigarette inside the house. It ended with Harrelson picking up her grandmother’s Christmas tree and throwing it at Still. She was charged with “terroristic threats” as well as assault.

Some holiday scuffles, however, can be downright adorable. In Dandridge, Tenn., the annual Christmas show was interrupted when Teegan Benson, 2, stole the baby Jesus from the manger. As recorded on another viral video, she was then stopped by her friend, Collia Weems, 3, who was playing Mary. The struggle over the baby Jesus left both crying as Collia declared, “Teegan jacked the baby Jesus, I had to jack him back.”  Whatever assault occurred was forgiven in the interests of holiday cheer, and the play was enhanced by plot twist that was a combination of “Taken” and “A Christmas Story.”

For all of these incidents, the holidays find us more at our best than our worst. Whether it is an out-of-control Santa or cascading Christmas gifts, we overcome much in coming together. That’s the point. As Garrison Keillor said, “A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

53 thoughts on “Christmas Torts: The 2018 Listing Of Holiday Mishaps and Madness”

  1. Reply to Paul Schulte — Rather than continue in the narrow gutter format I will begin anew here.

    From the Wikipedia pages on Aramaic and the language of Jesus we learn that Latin was only the language of the Roman overlords and Hebrew was moribund. Hebrew later revived but not as a language for Christians.

    So were any portions of the New Testament originally written in Aramaic? There is no evidence for that; all the earliest texts are in Greek.

    It is obvious enough why Paul’s letters were in Greek. That might have been enough to cause the remainder of the New Testament to be written in Greek once word-of-mouth no longer sufficed. To be sure, the Greek of the New Testament contains many words from Aramaic; it is hardly pure.

    1. David Benson – we know that the original Gospels were not written until around 80-90 A.D. We have no copies of those or the original copies of the letters of Paul. The earliest evidence is Gospels found that date to the 4th century. So, between the death of Jesus, we have a space of 50 years until the Gospels are written, probably not by the people they are attributed to. From there to the discovery of the first existing extant Gospels we have probably 200-250 years. So, what happens in those 300-340 years. Greek is not the dominant language of the Roman Empire, so why would you write in Greek? You are trying to convert everyone, not just the elite.

      David, give me a good reason these are in Greek since the Church turned to Latin under Constantine. My guess is that there are more out there to be found, in different languages. And we know that the originals were written on papyrus, which doesn’t have a lasting power like vellum, however, it is lighter and easier to carry.

      d

    2. Paul, read the 3 articles from Wikipedia that I suggested in 2 prior comments. Please carefully read what I wrote above; I repeat that Latin was not the language of communication for the masses in the eastern Roman Empire.

      1. David Benson – this is nothing personal, but I generally do not read Wikipedia articles. Bring me something from a reputable source. If I wouldn’t let my students use it, why should I let you? 😉

          1. David Benson – Wikipedia ranks with the best only for the 50% it gets right. And David, you should be able to support your position with other articles. It really is on you, not me, to look things up in this case.

  2. I miss our aluminum tree with silver branches and a revolving color wheel that had the tree change color over and over. It was so groovy. Merry Christmas!

  3. About 600 years ago in France, Christmas was spelled “Christmlas”. The French decided to omit the “L”, and thereafter the holiday was spelled “Christmas.” The French then wrote a Christmas carol to celebrate the new spelling. The new Carol, of course, was called “ The First No L.”

  4. Xmas! Mary Xmas!
    What kind of people worship Xmas?
    Fat kids, skinny kids,
    Kids who climb on rocks!
    Rat kids, whinny yids,,,
    Even kids with chicken pox say Mary.
    Mary Christmas!
    And Happy New Gear!

  5. IF A PERSON DOES AN IN DEPTH STUDY AND RESEARCH OF HOW CHRISTMAS ORIGINATED, THEY SHALL DISCOVER THAT CHRISTMAS HAS pagan roots. CONSTANTINE WAS EXTREMELY INSTRUMENTAL IN TAKING PEOPLE AWAY FROM THE TRUE GOSPEL. THE MOST EARLIEST OF CHRISTIANS, DID NOT OBSERVE CHRISTMAS, THEY CONTINUED TO OBSERVE THE JEWISH HOLIDAYS, AS CHRIST TOLD US, AS HE HELD THE LAST SUPER, TO DO THIS INTO REMEMBER HIM. WE ACTUALLY SHOULD BE OBSERVING HANUKKAH, SINCE CHRIST WAS A JEW AS WELL. EASTER ALSO HAS pagan roots. WE AS CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE OBSERVING PASSOVER, UNTIL HE RETURNS. WHEN THE PURITANS CAME TO THIS COUNTRY CHRISTMAS WAS ILLEGAL. IT WAS ONLY AFTER THE CIVIL WAR, WHEN THE TROOPS NEEDED A FESTIVE OCCASION, AFTER THE WAR THAT ALABAMA WAS THE FIRST STATE TO MAKE CHRISTMAS LEGAL. NONE OF US KNOW THE ACTUAL BIRTH OF CHRIST, SOME SAY IT WAS IN THE SUMMER MONTHS, SOME SAY IT WAS DURING THE TIME OF THE HIGH JEWISH HOLIDAYS, BUT NONE OF US REALLY KNOW. YESHUA HO MESSIAH (JESUS CHRIST) DID NOTIFY US, AND SAY THAT HE WOULD NOT RETURN, UNTIL ALL OF THE PROPHECIES WOULD BE FULFILLED, OTHER THAN THAT NONE OF US KNOW THE DAY NOR THE HOUR, AND HE DID SAY, HE WOULD COME LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. NO CHRISTMAS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BIRTH OF CHRIST, IT IS VERY MUCH MAN MADE.

      1. Liberty2nd – when a person writes partially in all caps they need to see a psychologist. 😉 Sorry. You just blew that fastball down the center of the plate. 🙂 Couldn’t resist.

              1. William Bayer – the Celtic Library here has a reproduction of the Lindisfarne Bible. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. My understanding and I have no facts to back this up, is that if you caused a typo, you got a fresh piece of vellum and started again. Perfection was the name of the game.

                If it is wrong, I will blame it on some history teacher I had over the years. 🙂

                1. Alas, to me it’s all academic compared with my favorite scripture not have gotten past the Holy Editor. From the Gospel According to Thomas: “The Kingdom of Heaven is spread upon the Earth, and men do not see it.”

                    1. William Bayer – try the free version of Grammarly. You can add it to your browser and it will at least underline obvious mistakes. I am not sure what the Professional version does because I have not ramped up to that. 🙂 Oh, and it gives you a weekly report letting you know how poorly you are doing. 🙂

                  1. William Bayer – well, to say the fix was in is, to put it mildly. Luckily, some of the other Gospels were favorites of the people so it will be a while before they are ordered destroyed. Thanks to some reticent priests and bishops, they hung on to copies. One monk was buried with almost a complete set of what has now become known as The Lost Gospels. I have a copy somewhere. Even considering they were heretical, they do not fit with the four in the New Testament. However fictitious they are, they do fill some necessary holes in the narrative.

          1. My understanding is that the earliest written portions of the New Testament are dated between 90 AD and 130 AD., and that the earliest Greek portions date around 300 AD — which leaves a pretty big grey area, where some people consider the Greek to be the earliest translations but not necessarily the original texts.

          2. David Benson – Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, not Greek, so it was translated into Greek? Paul was a Roman and spoke Latin but supposed also Aramaic. At worst, it would originally have been in Hebrew, but I don’t think it was. I know the new translations of the Bible have gone back to original sources.

          3. William & Paul — The article on the New Testament in Wikipedia explains the matters well. Greek was the scholarly language of the Hellenistic era, just coming to an end via the conquests of the Romans. The literate wrote and read Greek; the illiterate, including most of the Christian Jews, used oral transmission together with attentive memorization.

            1. David Benson – I am going to send you another link to a Bible research site that seems somewhat neutral. I do not trust Wikipedia when you have a 50/50 chance of getting wrong information. However, since vernacular translations were made early on (which you will see reference to in the article), I am still going to say they were originally in Aramaic or Hebrew, or Latin. The earliest Greek translation is the 4th century, and I say translation, not copy. Now for some reason, there seem to be some several thousand Greek translations from this early period, why I do not know, but they are popping up.

      1. Actually the New Testament was written in all caps, as lower-case Greek letters weren’t invented till hindreds of years later.

        1. Also, here’s a more general comment not aimed at any particular commenter. I’m not a lawyer but I am a bit of a New Testament scholar, and I trust the legal ideas expressed on this web site are not as wide of the mark as many of the biblical studies comments in this thread are.

            1. Milton Stanley Sr. – it depends on my mood at the time. 😉 Did I put a winky or a smiley on it? Then I am a jokester, If not, then I am serious. However, a lot of my “jokes” are semi-serious, so you should think about the implications of what I said. And I often use satire to make my point.

              However, having said all of that, can you answer my question?

              1. Thanks for answering my question. To answer your question all I can say is that Greek lower-case letters aren’t found in manuscripts older than about the ninth century A.D. Before that it was all caps all the time.

                1. Milton Stanley Sr. – since I am assuming from your description of Greek writing that all the letters were of the same size, what makes the caps? Why can’t they be lower case? You have nothing contemporary to compare them against so it sounds like a leap of faith that they are all caps. What leads scholars to the idea they are all caps? This is a serious question. There will be no winky or smiley.

  6. In my hometown, of about 9500, when you wrote to Santa, you actually had a chance of having your letter read on the radio. They had a 15-minute spot every day where they would read the letters to Santa from the kids.

    1. That sounds wonderful — so wonderful that it almost like something that could only have happened in a previous life.

      Over at the Daily Caller website, there’s a heart-warming Christmas Eve story partially titled “Kwanzaa Was Concocted By A Deranged Felon Who Tortured Naked Women”

      I’m guessing that warped writer didn’t grow up in your hometown. Nothing like preaching hate to pseudo Christians on Christmas Eve.

      I mention that because your comment reminded me that I forgot to thank Professor Turley for his Christmas Eve message. And thanks to you, too.

      Merry Christmas

      1. William Bayer – Merry Christmas to you. The Kwanzaa story is true. I have never figured out why people bought into it, but stranger things have happened in the black community.

        1. Yes, I’ve no doubt the historical content of the Daily Caller Hate Fest story is true. However my point is that celebrating Christmas with hate and race-baiting — which is what the Daily Caller is doing today — is a new one on me.

          Kinda seems a LOT like the opposite of what Linus told Charlie Brown that Christmas is all about.

          I’ve never before heard of people — even pseudo Christians such as those commenting about that story at the Daily Caller today — celebrating Christmas by dragging up reasons to hate and call people ignorant.

          I guess to some people nothing says Christmas or Joy to the World like talking about a felon torturing naked women.

          Maybe I missed that part of Jesus’ teachings. I only took two theology courses while studying engineering at Valparaiso University. Maybe I should’a taken a third course, but honestly — Lord forgive me — I had my hands full with all of the math and physics.

          1. William Bayer – I took more than my fair share of theology classes from very conservative to very liberal theologians. There are only so many classes you can take each semester before you go bonkers. 🙂 You are forgiven, my son. 😉

  7. Wonderful Christmas story. Beats the holly outta Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Well, maybe not, but at least it’s fresh and hasn’t been done to death on the big screen and local amateur theatre productions from coast to coast. And speaking of Christmas mishaps and Dickens:

    When I was in college, I briefly dated a girl who had a friend that was a very shy person that got talked into playing Bob Cratchit in a local production of A Christmas Carol. It was supposed to help him come out of his shell — and exercise in doing the exact opposite of what would come natural to him — and my girlfriend and I were seated dead center in the front row where he could see us and where our presence was intended to give him moral support.

    I’m reasonably familiar with the story, so I’m certain that the script deviated from Dickens’, because there was a line that my girlfriend’s friend delivered — Bob Cratchit’s first line in the play — that sounded more like a line that a butler would deliver. Actually, it WAS a line that a butler DID deliver in an old Three Stooges episode.

    By way of leading two visiting gentlemen to Scrooge’s office, Bob Cratchit said, “Walk this way.”

    Immediately the old Three Stooges line popped into my head, and I leaned over to my girlfriend and whispered what one of the Three Stooges would have said — “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need the talcum powder.”

    My girlfriend burst out laughing uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. We had to run for the exit, and I’m sure Bob Cratchit and the entire auditorium thought we were laughing at HIM.

    Kinda defeated the point of giving the poor guy moral support.

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