Goose!!!!

Get it? It’s a goose case.

The opening line from Miss. Supreme Court Justice Kitchens’ majority opinion says it all:

Janet Olier was attacked and chased by a domestic goose in Donna Bailey’s yard. As she attempted to flee, she fell and broke her arm. Olier sued Bailey in the County Courty of Jackson Count under a theory of premises liability and, alternatively, under the dangerous-propensity rule. The trial court granted summary judgment….. 

Here is the whole opinion.

The plaintiff sued for $200,000 in County Court.

Here are some gems from the majority opinion, with my comments in brackets:

there was no evidence that the particular goose that bit Olier ever had exhibited dangerous propensities… [she sure was a good goose];

Bailey…has a ‘Beware-Attack Geese’ sign in her yard;

Bailey assured Olier that the geese would not bite if Bailey was with her and offered Olier a bamboo pole with which to fend off the birds; [my geese are watch-geese];

At this point, a goose reached out and nipped her in the ‘crotch area.’ Olier turned to flee, tripped over one of the buckets lining the patio, and fell, breaking her arm.

Bailey did not breach her duty of care toward Olier as a landowner, but as an animal owner.

Bailey’s main argument is that the particular goose which bit Olier never exhibited a dangerous propensity in the past, i.e., it never had bitten or chased anyone before. Although an adult goose of the same gaggle admittedly had run a police officer off the property previously, that goose was locked up when the attack upon Olier occured. Bailey argues that, because there was no evidence that the particular goose in question had exhibited a dangerous propensity, she therefore had no actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous propensity on its part, and therefore she cannot be held liable for its actions. [this reminds me of what that grizzly bear guy used to say. You know the guy? Yea, the one eaten by grizzly bears.];

Was Bailey on notice of the dangerous propensity of her gaggle of geese as a whole?

This Court has never confronted the issue of an aggressive bird under the dangerous-propensity rule, and, it seems few other jurisdictions have either. [big surprise there].

Bailey arguably understood that all of her geese were potentially aggressive and acted accordingly;

The Dickinson dissent would send the plaintiff on a wild-goose chase to find and identify a single offending fowl and determine its particular history of dangerous propensity [pardon the pun];

A different older goose had…chased a police officer out of the yard; [so cops shoot black men, but run from geese like crying pre-schoolers?]

Where, as here, the goose is just being a goose, and being a goose included biting and chasing people….[in my book, being a person includes shooting killer geese];

We fear not the wolf, but the pack; not the bee, but the swarm; not the buffalo, but the herd. Janet Olier feared not the goose, but the gaggle.

By a 6-3 vote, the Court reverses the grant of summary judgment and remands the case to County Court for a trial.

My Take:

First Sophie the wiener dog, then the Wilkinson County alligators, and now the gaggle of geese in Jackson County. Mississippi is a hotbed of animal litigation.

As far as the Supreme Court goes, the winner is Justice Lamar, who concurred in part and in result without separate written opinion.

That’s exactly how I would have voted. Send it back down for a trial, but don’t get suckered into the gaggle of geese arguments offered by either side.  

Here’s my reasoning:

  • anyone stupid enough to keep a gaggle of marauding attack geese at their house is at least as stupid as…..
  • anyone stupid enough to go look at blooming banana plants at the home of someone who keeps a gaggle of geese at their house;
  • but the insurance company who insures a homeowner with a gaggle of geese at the house is dumber than both and deserves to have to pay something if, for no other reason, winning the stupid contest.

Juries were designed to decide hopeless fact questions like this: which of the two litigants was the dumbest?  

I sure hope that somewhere along the way, a judge ordered mediation. It sounds like the settlement value of this case was in the ballpark of $50,000. Maybe even less. Based on these super-weird facts, it could have gone either way on the facts and the law.

I could see a case like this making it to the Supreme Court if the value of the case was much bigger. But this was a relatively small case that either side could lose. Cases like that beg for a settlement.

I can think of several current or former trial court judges who would have gotten the parties into their chambers and twisted arms until they settled. If you ask what kind of judge would do that, my response is that I can think of two who are either current or former judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now, we’ve got a 36-page Supreme Court decision that sends the litigants back to the starting gate. Good grief!