The other day, I heard some yelling outside my house. When I went to investigate, there was a boy in one of my flower bushes. I went out to help him and caught a glimpse of another boy running away.
The boy who was stuck in the bush said that the other boy pushed him into it for no reason. You know how boys are, they forget the bad stuff they do and will blame others. My poor plant was nearly crushed and is dead. I think the boy should compensate me for my loss, but he said that he is a victim and doesn’t owe me anything. Still, he refuses to tell me who the other boy is. So, I can’t go after him. How can I replace my bush?
One of the nice things about the law is the ability to sue an unknown defendant. Courts often use fictitious names for litigants, such as John Doe and Mary Roe. On occasion, there will be a complaint filed against multiple unknown people named — for example, John Does 1-10. You don’t need to know at first who your defendant is, provided you know the identity of the boy, which it sounds as though you do.
Another nice thing about the law is that there are times when you don’t have to prove who is responsible for your loss. You can sue a party who you can show is at least partly responsible and leave it up to him to sue others who may also be partly responsible. The nice thing about this is that your defendants will do much of the work for you by pointing fingers at one another. You might just have to show how much you are owed and let the defendants figure out who pays what share of it.
We see this type of situation often in the news. For example, when there is a plane crash, the injured passengers or their families will sue the airline, pilot, plane manufacturer and the company that built the part that malfunctioned. We also see it in oil spills; the company who owns the pipe will be sued along with every other company involved with the production of the oil. All the defendants will then start suing all the other defendants until all possible combinations of lawsuits have been exhausted.
On the outside, this may look wasteful and unnecessary, but holding someone responsible for more than his or her fair share is just as wrong as not making the wronged party whole. Sometimes, the companies will quickly try to determine the amount of damages they have to pay before trying to determine what share they will have to pay, because there are so many people involved that eliminating some of them makes more sense.
While your bush-smasher may be right about being a victim, I think that his unwillingness to tell you the identity of the person who pushed him is sufficient to make a claim against him for the entire cost of replacing the flowers. Perhaps, he will change his mind about withholding the name once he understands the cost of doing that.
John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at firstname.lastname@example.org.