May 6, 2021

Liability Claims Gnaw at Punxatawney Phil

Though the calendar says it’s Springtime, Mother Nature is messin’ with us. As I sit in my office near Richmond, Virginia, it’s a chilly 31 degrees with forecast of snow on the way.

Spring Break?

Ha! Hand me the sweater and crank up the heat. This is a cruel joke.

Ground Hog

Instead of railing against the injustice, some disgruntled and chilly parties are using the good old American legal system to enforce accountability. You thought setting a wrong claim reserve would get you in trouble? Punxatawney Phil of Groundhog Day fame now faces indictment for mis-forecasting and misrepresenting the onset of Spring.

Ohio prosecutor Michael Gmoser is pressing charges against said rodent for his misrepresentation of Spring and seeks the death penalty. Criminal indictment is the least of his worries, though.

In the past two weeks, seven civil lawsuits have been filed against Punxatawney Phil, asserting that the Ground Hog “knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that his forecast was negligent and fell below the standard of care in weather forecasting.” Civil lawsuits, many clustered in Cook County, IL and Los Angeles County, seek both compensatory and punitive damages. (Punxatawney Phil has tendered the suit to its liability insurer, Woodchuck Mutual, which has stated “We are not willing to comment on pending litigation and are closely reviewing the matter for coverage.”)

Coverage experts are burrowing through court filings currently to assess the scope of potential financial liabilities for Punxatawney Phil.

While some scoff at the odds of such civil suits succeeding, other legal observers caution that such claims have teeth. Lawsuits against such American icons — once unthinkable — are now increasingly common. Recent years have brought:

* Class action suits against St. Valentine by jilted lovers who failed to find true romance on February 14th.
* Premises suits against the Easter Bunny from slips and falls occasioned by “leftovers” deposited during the hippety-hoppity rabbit’s travels.
* Lawsuits by LGBT groups, challenging state laws making it illegal for Tooth Fairies to intermarry.
* Twelve bad boys in Austin, TX — overlooked by Santa for not helping with the dishes, leaving their rooms messy, and writing nasty words in public bathrooms — won a landmark “fair share” decision in 2008. Evidence showed that Santa had bypassed their houses in an “arbitrary and capricious way.”

Reached at his rural Pennsylvania lair, a spokesperson for Punxatawney Phil insists on his innocence, maintains that he met the requisite standard of care for ground hogs and demands that his insurer settle all claims within policy limits.

(A spokesman for American Attorneys for Justice announced that the organization, comprised of the nation’s personal injury lawyers, are forming a Ground Hog Litigation Interest Group during its upcoming meeting in Boca Raton, FL.)

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