Welcome to technoLAWgical... A Blog About Technology and the Law
written by Megan Costello, Esq: A Cyberlaw Attorney & Geek.

Ewe have to be kidding me: Bo Peep and Burning “Sheep” Sue Johnson and Johnson for Product Liability

image

photo adapted from “Mary’s Lamb” by Playingwithbrushes which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

What would Halloween (or a Halloween-themed blog series) be without costumes? I have friends who, to this day, take the entire year to come up with some of the most impressive and painstakingly detailed getups I’ve ever seen. I, for one, was never an active crafter, so my options were (sadly) always store-bought.

My crafty costuming connoisseurs out there will appreciate a story about one Halloween costume project that went horribly, horribly wrong. One so wrong, in fact, that it ended with a products liability lawsuit.

Our story takes us back to the early 1980’s. Frank and Sue Ferlito, a husband and wife, dressed up as the famous fairytale duo: Little Bo Peep and her sheep*. For the sheep costume, Mrs. Ferlito put her DIY skills to work using long underwear, Elmer’s Glue, and cotton batting (manufactured by Johnson and Johnson) to make the costume. According to the opinion, Mr. Ferlito was head-to-toe in the cotton batting:

image

At the party, Mr. Ferlito was ‘itching’ for a cigarette.  He and his wife left the party, and in a few clicks of a butane lighter, the flame accidentally caught the cotton batting on Mr. Ferlito’s sleeve. In seconds, the lamb costume was on fire. By the time they could put the costume out, Mr. Ferlito suffered burns that covered almost one-third of his body. According to the appeal, Mr. Ferlito underwent several surgeries to correct the damage from the fire. 

After such a horrific happenstance, Bo Peep and her Sheep decided to sue Johnson and Johnson for products liability. Their claim? That Johnson and Johnson failed to warn them on the packaging that the cotton batting was as flammable as they discovered at the Halloween party. (Yes, really.)

In the original case, a jury awarded the Ferlitos $620,000 ($550,000 for Mr. Ferlito, and $70,000 for Mrs. Ferlito, respectively). Shortly after, a new trial was ordered, and the district court set aside the large sum. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit was still not convinced, and the case was extinguished. The couple could not prove that a flammability warning on the package for the cotton batting would have changed their actions on that fateful night. Unfortunately for the couple, with products liability, this was a critical component of winning the case. 

According to the opinion, “[Mr. Ferlito] knew that cotton batting burned but emphasized that he did not know ‘how it burned’. His wife, who made the costume, also knew that cotton could burn, “[b]ut not burn that fast.” Additionally, Mr. Ferlito admitted that he ignored warning labels on his cigarettes, and was distracted by others in Halloween costumes outside when he went to light his cigarette.

In the end, the court didn’t decide whether a warning label was needed on the cotton batting and saved that question for another day. In this instance, the risk was obvious by the characteristics of the product.

So, creative costume crafters: be careful this Halloween!

Stay tuned for more exciting #LAWctober posts every Friday during the month of October! If you’re just joining us now, check out my earlier posts below:

-       Jealousy. Murder. Siri?— http://goo.gl/ziGl00

-       The Devil Made Me Sue It!— http://goo.gl/1eMMI7

*There is actually conflicting information in the original opinion and the appeal. The original opinion reports that the couple was “Mary and her little lamb,” on appeal…”Little Bo Peep and her Sheep.” Take your pick.  

Comments

The Devil Made Me Sue It! PA Man Sues Devil in Real Civil Rights Case

image

Often times, we go through rough patches in our lives. Our whole world as we know it turns upside-down, and we feel like we aren’t in control. In most instances, we blame ourselves, our family, our job, or some other outlying factor. One Pennsylvania man blamed Satan…and he actually tried to sue him!

In 1971, an extremely distraught man named Gerald Mayo  brought a real legal claim against “Satan and His Staff” claiming that “Satan has on numerous occasions caused [Mayo] misery and unwarranted threats against [his] will,” and “that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in his path and has caused [Mayo’s] downfall.” Additionally, Mayo attempted to raise a civil rights claim, because the “acts of Satan has deprived him of his constitutional rights.” Mayo attempted to file this complaint “in forma pauperis” which, translated from legalese, simply meant that he could not afford the court fees, but wished to proceed with the case anyway.

In its short (but somewhat humorous) reply, the PA court told Mayo he couldn’t sue the devil. First, the Court said it had serious doubts that Mayo’s claims could be ones that the court could help. Next, the court said that there was no known address of the Devil, except for one case in New Hampshire (making a slight nod to the short story “the Devil and Daniel Webster,” which was a fictional story about a man who sold his soul to the devil and who hired a famous attorney to break his contract)

picture adapted from “Daniel Webster and the Devil argue in court," a picture in the public domain and via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, the court mused that many people may have same or similar claims against the Devil, and that a class action (or the ability for everyone to sue at the same time for the same reasons) might be more appropriate in this case. Of course, if you want to read what the court said in its entirety, you can read the full document here.

So the next time the devil made you do it, don’t expect to point a legal finger at Satan…at least not in Pennsylvania, anyway!

Enjoying my Halloween posts so far? Stay tuned for more #LAWctober content every Friday this October! Follow technolawgical for updates!

Comments

"I Need to Hide My Roomate"… Jealousy. Murder. Siri?

image

iPhone users can attest: we’ve all been there. We get bored and ask ridiculous questions to our “personal virtual assistant,” Siri. While, for the most part, Siri can be useful for checking the weather or sending a text, Siri is also amazing for answering some very random commands in some entertaining and tongue-in-cheek ways. One such command used to be “I need you to help me hide a body.” That was, until a recent murder case surfaced this past summer involving Siri as an unlikely accomplice.

Yes, you read that right: Murder.

In 2012, a young University of Florida student named Pedro Bravo was accused of murdering his friend, Christian Aguilar. The two men were reportedly at odds with each other because Aguilar was friends with Bravo’s ex-girlfriend. Their friendship turned sour, and soon Aguilar was reported missing. According to the news reports, prosecutors said that Bravo killed Aguilar by poisoning and strangulation and then left the body in a shallow grave an hour away from the university. The motive behind all of this was over jealousy surrounding Bravo’s ex girlfriend.

While a murder story is chilling and tragic in any capacity, there is an interesting technological twist. When Bravo’s phone was confiscated and searched for evidence, a peculiar screenshot showed up on Bravo’s phone that was dated at or around the time that Aguilar went missing.

image

Screenshot of the evidence file used during Bravo’s trial displaying the “I need to hide my roommate” command on Siri.

The search was “I need to hide my roommate,” and Siri’s snarky reply was: “What kind of place are you looking for? Swamps…Reservoirs…Metal Foundries…Dumps…Mines…” In addition to this Siri search, it was reported that Bravo’s phone flashlight was used nine times during the day the incident allegedly took place, and that GPS information from the phone subsequently disproved his alibi.

In more recent articles, there is a lot of debate surrounding whether the exchange between Bravo and Siri actually directly occurred. While there is no question that the screenshot was on the phone at or around the time that Aguilar went missing, Bravo’s phone (an iPhone 4) did not have Siri capabilities (this feature did not become a native element of the iPhone family until the 4s). Likewise, the screenshot depicted a phone using the AT&T Network. Bravo’s phone was from Verizon. Prosecutors soon realized that this was part of Facebook cache data of a Siri screenshot instead of an actual system prompt.

You can see the actual testimony here regarding the phone screenshot here: 

YouTube video of the testimony via the Innovation News Center.

As of August, Bravo was charged with first degree murder of Aguilar and was sentenced to life in prison  And as for Siri? Gone are the days of being an accomplice. Ask her where you can hide a body today and she will coyly tell you: “I used to know the answer to this…”

Stay tuned for more #LAWctober blog posts every Friday this October! 

Comments

Happy LAWctober

Greetings Guys and Ghouls,

Ahh, fall is in the air. The leaves are changing, the air is getting chilly, and the pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING is in full bloom. The only thing left to make things feel more official is the start of all the Halloween-themed movie marathons, tv specials, decorations, costume parties, and haunted houses. And rightfully so; We’re finally in October…a month where some of the creepiest, most bizarre, and scariest things tend to happen. If you have a fascination with the macabre, everywhere you turn, you’ll be sure to find some of your favorite terrifying things.

And that includes here at technoLAWgical.

Since my Valentine’s Week was such a success, I’m coming back strong here at technoLAWgical with a whole MONTH of Halloween-themed posts.

image

Welcome, everyone, to the month of LAWctober!! Stay tuned every Friday this month (starting this Friday, October 3) for some tricks and treats involving some of my favorite supernatural, dark, and (sometimes) funniest legal cases. It’s been incredible researching these stories, so I hope you enjoy what this blog has in store for you.

Until then: grab a bag of candy corn and a pumpkin spice latte, and get ready. Friday will be here before you know it! :)
Meg

Comments

LAWts of Updates! (ok, that was a bad pun)

image

Well, hello there!

It’s been quiet here on the technoLAWgical blog. Not for lack of things to talk about, but for many exciting developments that I’m happy to announce today. Here are three things to get excited about:

image

1. I’m a Published Author!

I am officially a contributing author for two nationally published books. The first is a legal text book on data security and privacy law, and the other is a Computer Agreements form book for attorneys practicing in high-tech law that is part of a multi-volume set of form-books spanning all areas of the law.

For those interested in learning more about the publications, or to purchase a copy for yourself, click the links above! 

image

2. I’m a National Speaker This Month!

For those interested in learning a thing or two about social media and ethics, I am a speaker for a national phone conference called “Ethics: Social Media Sanctions” on August 27th. The National Business Institute is holding the program, and (for all you attorneys out there) it will count as 1 CLE credit in qualifying jurisdictions.

To sign up for the national conference, be sure to check out this website:

http://www.nbi-sems.com/Details.aspx/R-66600ER

image

3.There Are Lots of Cool Things on the Horizon (So Stay Tuned)

I have a few more projects in the works that I’ll be announcing soon. In the meantime, stay tuned to the blog and my social media feeds.

Likewise, if you are searching for a legal help for your startup or technology company, be sure to check out my solo practice’s website: technoLAWgical. The website explains a lot about my work as a solo lawyer and the types of law I generally practice.

As always, thanks for your support, your encouragement, and continued readership. Without you, my practice, blog, and everything else wouldn’t be possible.

Talk to all of you soon with an exciting new blog post! —Meg

Comments
Whether you’re enjoying a barbecue with friends, watching fireworks, or just having a relaxing day off…technoLAWgical wishes you a very Happy 4th of July!
Whether you’re enjoying a barbecue with friends, watching fireworks, or just having a relaxing day off…technoLAWgical wishes you a very Happy 4th of July!

Whether you’re enjoying a barbecue with friends, watching fireworks, or just having a relaxing day off…technoLAWgical wishes you a very Happy 4th of July!

Comments
OMG! HBD, LOL!!! 
Here’s a fun fact for you to start out your Friday: Did you know that popular Internet slang, “LOL” (which stands for Laugh Out Loud) turned 25 this month?
According to a great, informational article by itv  about the famous abbreviation, LOL had its roots in a 1989 online newsletter called  “Fidonet”. The newsletter suggested that internet-goers use the acronym for more “colorful communicating.”  There are some who claim the first “cyber chuckle” originated a little earlier, but hey—let’s celebrate!




Hope you’re having a great day and that you laugh your way through another great weekend! :D
OMG! HBD, LOL!!! 
Here’s a fun fact for you to start out your Friday: Did you know that popular Internet slang, “LOL” (which stands for Laugh Out Loud) turned 25 this month?
According to a great, informational article by itv  about the famous abbreviation, LOL had its roots in a 1989 online newsletter called  “Fidonet”. The newsletter suggested that internet-goers use the acronym for more “colorful communicating.”  There are some who claim the first “cyber chuckle” originated a little earlier, but hey—let’s celebrate!




Hope you’re having a great day and that you laugh your way through another great weekend! :D

OMG! HBD, LOL!!! 

Here’s a fun fact for you to start out your Friday: Did you know that popular Internet slang, “LOL” (which stands for Laugh Out Loud) turned 25 this month?

According to a great, informational article by itv  about the famous abbreviation, LOL had its roots in a 1989 online newsletter called  “Fidonet”. The newsletter suggested that internet-goers use the acronym for more “colorful communicating.”  There are some who claim the first “cyber chuckle” originated a little earlier, but hey—let’s celebrate!

Hope you’re having a great day and that you laugh your way through another great weekend! :D

Comments

The Star Wars Kid Saga: The Internet Strikes Back Against Cyberbullying

image

This past Sunday was Star Wars Day…and for those who might have missed it, May the Fourth Be With You!

In honor of this geeky holiday, today’s post focuses on one of the earliest viral videos on the Internet and the very serious issue of cyber bullying. For those of you who lived through the advent of streaming video, I present to you: The Saga of the Star Wars Kid.

1. A Long, Long Time Ago, The “Star Wars Kid” Made Viral Video Fame.

Our story takes us back to 2002 when Ghyslain Raza, a young Canadian high school student armed with a golf ball retriever and a video camera, recorded himself in his school’s AV department. What came from this recording session was a video that was arguably the first of its kind to grow viral on the internet:

image

Screenshot of Raza’s viral video, “The Star Wars Kid,” Circa 2002. Click the screenshot to view the video (external link to YouTube). 
Unbeknownst to Raza, a few schoolmates found the video and posted it to the internet without his permission. Within days, the video had gone viral. To this day the video continues to be watched, with over a billion hits.

2.The Viral Video Was a Source of Years of Bullying for Raza.

While some would see this “internet fame” and the unprecedented number of views something to boast about, unfortunately for Raza, this was quite the opposite. Raza faced years of bullying as a result of this video.

Dubbed, the “Star Wars Kid,” Raza couldn’t escape the torment: online or off. According to several news reports, when Raza made Internet fame, he suffered through bullying to such a degree that he was forced to drop out of high school and undergo therapy.

image

(pic: Pascal, “Impending Doom (Explored),” August 5, 2010 via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic Attribution.)  

In a 2013 interview, Raza even noted that complete strangers were threatening his life, making rude and embarrassing comments to him, and even suggesting the young man commit suicide.

3.In 2006, Raza’s Family Sued the Kids Who Released the Video To the Internet; The Parties Settled.

In addition to his private torment, Raza’s family took the fight against the teenagers who released the video to the public.
image
Raza’s family took the teenagers to court for releasing the video and sued for over $351,000 in damages. It’s reported that the families ultimately settled out of court.

4. Over A Decade Later, The Internet and Popular TV Shows Alike Still Love (and Parody) The Star Wars Kid.

It’s been over a decade since its release, and The Star Wars Kid video continues to be a hit with the Internet, popular TV shows, and others. For example, in its recent Netflix comeback, the cult classic “Arrested Development” gave a nod to the famous internet video when George Michael recorded himself fighting with a small broom:
image
Screenshot of the Arrested Development, “Star Wars Kid” Parody Circa 2013. Click the screenshot to view the video (external link to YouTube). 

Of course, Many other parodies continue to be released.
In some instances, Raza’s video inspired groups of people on the internet to rally together and to help support the young viral video star. Some petitioned to put Raza in the newest Star Wars trilogy (which was released in the early 2000’s by Lucasfilms), while others came together to collect enough money to buy Raza an iPod to thank him for hours of entertainment.

5. The Star Wars Kid Today is a Law School Grad and a Strong Advocate Against Cyberbullying.

Where is “The Star Wars Kid” today? Raza resurfaced in 2013 for some interviews with various news sources to speak about his experience as a viral video star, and the trials and tribulations that come with viral video fame. According to the interviews, Raza is now a law school graduate and actively speaks out about cyberbullying.

image
Raza, circa 2010, overcame his hardships and graduated from law school, among other accomplishments (via Motherboard)

Cyberbullying is a very serious epidemic that is sweeping our younger generation by storm. Bullying, which was once an issue that stayed at the school and the playground, now follows students to their homes. With the creation of social networking tools and the integration with smartphones and mobile devices, cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality that can follow students virtually anywhere.

6. Help Is Just a Click Away for Victims of Cyberbullying

The Force may have been strong with Raza, but for some targets of cyberbullying, the outcome is not as favorable. Many students who have endured cyberbullying have had their reputations and feelings hurt, and in some cases, have even pushed these students to commit suicide.
If you or anyone you know is the subject of cyberbullying, please know that there is help.
image

There are many public and private organizations that can help, including the US Government’s Stop Bullying website (www.stopbullying.gov) which provides a large amount of support and information to subjects of cyberbullying. Many policies and state laws have also emerged surrounding cyberbullying, creating legal recourse for this unfortunate source of suffering.
Comments
("Original image by NASA, ESA and A. Nota (STScI/ESA), under a Creative Commons 3.0 License; warping and recoloring by technoLAWgical”)
"I’ve got a very (good) feeling about this!" 
Happy Star Wars Day from technoLAWgical! :D
("Original image by NASA, ESA and A. Nota (STScI/ESA), under a Creative Commons 3.0 License; warping and recoloring by technoLAWgical”)
"I’ve got a very (good) feeling about this!" 
Happy Star Wars Day from technoLAWgical! :D
("Original image by NASAESA and A. Nota (STScI/ESA), under a Creative Commons 3.0 License; warping and recoloring by technoLAWgical”)

"I’ve got a very (good) feeling about this!" 

Happy Star Wars Day from technoLAWgical! :D

Comments