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Religious freedom and accountability: What to do when a neighbor trips on your private property on the Sabbath

Religious freedom and accountability: What to do when a neighbor trips on your private property on the Sabbath

First of all, you should call a personal injury lawyer. But today, we look at solving this legal puzzle through an episode of the TV show, The Good Wife.

Like most legal dramas, The Good Wife is a fantastical take on how the legal system works. Unlike most other shows, it strives for realism. Most episodes delve into the unexciting aspects of legal casework such as plea bargaining and negotiations. It’s also commendable for consulting writers with legal backgrounds, which is what elevates it over shows like the fanciful Ally McBeal or Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.

Is The Good Wife an accurate representation of real-life legal processes?

Well, no.

For one, The Good Wife has lots of “objections” that are never overruled. It also regularly dips into legal drama conventions: feisty lawyers, climactic trials (in fact, lots of trials), and courtroom showdowns.

Moreover, the main protagonist Alicia Florrick and company handle a family law case in one episode and a criminal investigation the next. It’s not highly unusual, but it’s also quite unrealistic. We think it’s because tackling only family law or criminal law or corporate law will make for a boring show. And perhaps because it’s set at an all-service firm.

Don’t miss our article: Legal drama tropes that make the practice of law look more exciting than it is

Ultimately, it’s good TV. Many of its storylines are heavily based on real-life cases, too, because like most fine pieces of fiction, it mines material from real life.

Answering the question: Am I liable if someone gets injured on my property?

In the episode titled “Unorthodox,” Alicia is assigned to defend the case of one of the firm’s (Stern, Lockhart, & Gardner) partners’ daughter Rose Stern. Rose used to be a party girl, but she’s changed. She and her husband are now Orthodox Jews living in a neighborhood where some neighbors may or may not be antagonistic toward their ilk.

Their peaceful abode is disturbed when a woman sues them for tripping on an eruv wire on their property. The seemingly pure and naive victim sues them for $1.2 million in damages. At first glance, the case looks pretty clear cut — Rose and her husband are liable because they didn’t call a technician to fix the eruv wire when it fell, endangering the lives of passersby. And the reason they couldn’t get it fixed was that it happened on the Sabbath.

Under premises liability laws, a property owner’s duty of care, or the reasonable care and maintenance expected of a property owner, will depend on the status of the person injured while on the property. If the person injured was invited, the private property owner’s liability will be greater than if the person was uninvited or is a trespasser.

Arguing a slip and fall case as a First Amendment issue

In the world of The Good Wife, however, things aren’t always as they seem.

Alicia and her co-counsel Ryan Alprin work on the case and spark flirtatious vibes along the way. Small-time lawyer Ryan is sharp and keen, while corporate worker Alicia is cagey and formal. Nevertheless, they work well together and decide to argue the case as a First Amendment issue. That means asserting that the couple can’t be penalized for practicing their religion.

The defense would have worked too, except that Rose was found to have made numerous calls to her father on many a Sabbath day. That’s bad news for Alicia, Ryan, and the firm, which then would have to settle for a whopping $1 million.

But, it turns out, the Sterns didn't have to pay for damages at all — everything was just an intricate ploy, which involved surveillance cameras and a co-conspirator, to scam them of their money.

Video surveillance is an extremely helpful piece of evidence in a slip and fall case. Not only can it show the event exactly as it happened, but it will also show the circumstances around it and substantiate claims as to the injuries sustained.

Scammers work hard but Alicia Florrick works harder. Although actually, it was Kalinda Sharma, the firm’s in-house private investigator who found out about the strategic placements of the cameras. Hooray for religious freedom and Kalinda.

Remember: Alicia Florrick and Stern, Lockhart, & Gardner are works of fiction. Any similarities to real entities are purely coincidental and merely a product of the TV show’s writers’ and producers’ imaginations. But Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams is a real law firm with offices in Renton. Call us — not Alicia Florrick — for your slip and fall case in Washington.