(Forget about getting a ticket to the game--season tickets are willed to children).
And for the last 42 years, Penn State football has been synonymous with Joe Paterno. For those of you who have been living on another planet, "JoePa" is the sometimes grumpy, always rumpled football coach who defines a living legend. Paterno, who looks like an Italian shoemaker from South Philadelphia, is the second winningest major college football coach in history. His looks are deceiving, though, because he is a Brown University graduate who has given millions back to Penn State to support the performing arts (which does not include football).
So, what does this have to do with risk, you might ask? JoePa apparently was driving through campus recently and observed a woman allegedly blowing through a stop sign. (From here on in, everything I describe is "allegedly.") He pursued, confronted and chastised her for her driving. When her husband reminded JoePa that JoePa was speaking to his wife, JoePa responded, "That's your problem." You gotta love the spunk and wit of this 82-year-old.However, the rumors are flying that JoePa may end up on the wrong end of the lawsuit, if for no other reason than he has deep pockets.
This incident reflects just one form of homegrown risk. One moment you (or a loved one) are simply driving a car, and then the next you are on the wrong end of civil and maybe even criminal proceedings. Indeed, there is at least one medical study arguing that true road rage is not just bad manners but is actually a psychiatric condition termed "intermittent explosive disorder."
While most of us hold back in these blood-boiling fiascos, for others further confrontation, words and threats often get involved. This can lead to serious personal injury, which can lead to substantial claims, which can lead to ... well, you get the picture.
What's more, our own misbehavior can ultimately be the source of potential culpability for our employers, whether they are universities or companies. It is not going to be difficult for even an average lawyer to figure out a theory to tie Penn State into any claim involving JoePa's conduct.
We know this because of a recent lawsuit against NFL player Adam "Pacman" Jones. Jones got into a gun fight at a Las Vegas strip club that resulted in a bouncer being paralyzed. The bouncer sued Jones, and the NFL and Jones' employer, the Tennessee Titans--even though the NFL and the Titans had nothing to do with this off-season incident. The bouncer claimed they should have, somehow, prevented Jones' alleged behavior. Even a tenuous connection such as this is no protection against the risk of a substantial lawsuit.
As a final thought--consider the following risk. Recently, a Gordon-Gekko-in-a-big-fat-Mercedes-convertible type beeped at a grandma, apparently crossing an intersection in front of his car too slowly for his busy schedule. After three threatening beeps, grandma swung her very full grocery bag at the front bumper, setting off the driver air bag and knocking the snot out of Mr. Gekko. He fell out of his car, dazed and bleeding, but still yelling at grandma, who simply walked away. Word has it he's suing grandma.
Yes, indeed, risk is everywhere.
PHILIP G. KIRCHER is co-chairman of the commercial litigation department at the law firm of Cozen O'Connor.
December 1, 2007
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