Contract & Property Law, Oddstuff

1. Free help can be very expensive. 2. And something about license fees

When you have a friend over to help you with some work, are you liable when your friend gets injured in the process? What if it wasnt a  friend, but a close family member? Your cousin or father-in-law?  These are questions you can get a whole class room of first year law students very excited about. And this is not because the applicable law is difficult to understand – it is because  we are talking friends and family.

You dont sue your friends, you dont go to court against the family. Which is nonsense of course, it  happens all the time, but first year law students dont know that. So they argue that the offered help was ‘for free’, hence no liability. Or that there is an implied understanding that you are helping at your own risk. Its interesting that once you add an element of personal  relationship into an otherwise bog standard legal scenario, emotions  take over and all rational thought goes out the window. But then, first year law students are naive. Actually, come to think of it, many graduates are too.

In the case below, the brother-in-law agreed to help with cutting  branches off a tree. The relative held the branch, which snapped and  the brother-in-law fell off the ladder into the empty pool. Two idiots  at work you might say. The Court rightly held that the relative was  responsible for ensuring a safe workplace (not in the sense of
employment) and therefore liable to meet the medical costs. Because  you dont climb on a ladder with a chainsaw next to an empty swimming pool (obviously) the brother-in-law’s claim was reduced by  25%.

Makes sense? Run this case in Torts 101 and be surprised.


On a completely different note, the case of Oracle v SAP about an admitted copyright infringement by SAP can be noted for the difficulty in assessing damages. The jury awarded the license fees Oracle would have charged SAP in the normal course of events. SAP appealed and argued that in the normal course of events there would have been a compromise reached, resulting in much lower fees. The problem for the court was that Oracle had never granted a license for that product to anyone, so there was no comparable fee. In the end, the Court reduced  the damages from $1.3 billion (!) to ‘only’ $272 million. On which basis the Court arrived at that figure is unclear. But hey, if there ever was an appeal worth its legal fees, it was this one.


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