Unexpected Results Can Occur

There’s a lot of law that goes on “below the radar.”

lot of law goes on “behind the scenes” where it’s completely invisible to the general public.  It’s just never thought about – and that’s because everything seems to work seamlessly.  The only time most people ever think about such law is where there’s a problem.

Take, for example, the circus.  No, really, the circus.  Last summer  my grandson came to visit – and out by Dublin, along Interstate 580, we saw a big, striped tent.  It had big blue and gold stripes.  I don’t remember seeing much of a sign.  But how much sign do you need?  A big-top striped tent of those proportions usually only means one things – a circus.

So – we did what doting grandparents do. We bought tickets.

It was a great day.  Where else can you see a grown man balance a full-sized shopping cart on his chin?  And where else can you see a couple of people ride full size motorcycles around a caged globe – without hitting each other while doing full vertical and horizontal loops at the same time?  There were skilled trapeze artists, a circus master – the whole nine yards.

But I’ll bet most of the circus-goers didn’t stop to think about all of the legal arrangements involved in that event.  For example, the big-top circus tent didn’t just get setup in the middle of nowhere.  It had to be setup on land that belonged to someone.  So that means the circus had to get some kind of permissions – and probably had to pay some kind of a fee – in order to be able to set up their tent on vacant land next to the freeway.  Such an arrangement has all of the makings of a contract for the use of real property – and we usually call this a lease.  Even though the circus was only there for a short period of time, all of the necessary legal arrangements would most likely have to be made in advance, including leases and other legal arrangements.

Not every circus sets up under the big top.  It seems like a lot of circus performances these days take place indoors – like at big indoor arenas.  Same thing – most of these events may well be backed up by a lot of contracts.  Such contracts might take into account such things as the type of use that is to be made of any particular facility, and the times and dates when it will be available.  And lots of contracts contain terms that address things like potential accidents, incidents, or unforeseen circumstances.  Such contracts can spell out who’s going to assume the risk of certain kinds of accidents or loss.  Among other things, such contracts can provide for who’s going to pay for loss, injury, or damage from an event.

And don’t think it doesn’t happen.  A circus – or any other event – can experience an unforeseen event, where things might not go according to plan.  Here’s an example.

It seems that in 1958, the “Great Danbury State Fair, Inc.” was apparently hosting a fair. (The Wikipedia article on Danbury Fair indicates that this fair started in 1821 and that beginning in 1869 it ran for 10 days every October until 1981, when it closed).  There was apparently an incident of sorts that resulted in a lawsuit.  The reported opinion doesn’t give many details, but it does indicate that someone was injured and that the Great Danbury State Fair, Inc. was one of two named defendants (the other named defendant was “Steele’s Frontier Days”).

The court’s opinion is very short – it is only 6 paragraphs long (and two of those paragraphs are only 1 sentence long).  The court’s opinion refers to an “allegedly offending elephant” and notes that the complaint filed by the injured person describes the elephant as “an animal ferae nature, ” which in Latin means “wild animal.” No other details are given in the court’s opinion.

Reading between the lines, it seems clear that someone was injured at the Great Danbury State Fair, and that this person claimed that an elephant was the cause of the injury, and that they believed that Steele’s Frontier Days and the Great Danbury State Fair were responsible.  The case is reported as Becker v. Steele (1958) 139 A.2d 820.

(The court’s opinion is very brief – it doesn’t say what the accident was, or how it happened, or whether or not anybody was found liable.  It only indicates that an injury occurred, and that the injured person claimed that the injury was caused by an elephant.)

An elephant, no doubt, should be given a great deal of respect, and should also be given a wide berth, and only skilled and knowledgeable persons should handle an elephant.  But when something with an elephant goes wrong, then some of the law that frequently operates “below the radar” may be called upon to sort out the consequences.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS