- John Gaines
Many people wonder about the possible legal implications of their actions, given that legal cases can be financially and emotionally stressful. Although it’s impossible to predict the legal consequences of every single action in your life, How to Get Sued, by J. Craig Williams, provides a good summary of some of the main issues that can land people in legal trouble. With such chapters as “Go to Work” and “Get Married,” Williams provides humorous examples of how seemingly small issues can be inflamed by bizarre and contradictory state and local laws. Although written primarily as a humor book and lacking in deep legal analysis, How to Get Sued provides plenty of amusingly bizarre examples of how twisted the legal system—and human behavior—can potentially become.
Most of the chapters of How to Get Sued detail how people can potentially become involved in legal cases. Many of these examples tend towards the ridiculously petty. For example, one of the cases is a legal battle between Captain Tony’s Bar and Sloppy Joe’s Bar over which bar got to retain the Sloppy Joe’s name, due to the fact that “Sloppy Joe” was a friend of the legendary author Ernest Hemingway. Others seem more grotesque, as in the instance of a particularly unfortunate husband whose wife cut his hand off as a punishment for his infidelity. But most of the cases are united by two common threads: emotions that run hot and a substantial loss of money. Sadly, the segments of the book that don’t deal with how to get sued are extremely short. One would think that topics such as “Go in Front of the Judge” and “Retain Competent Counsel” would provide many interesting topics, but those sections seem far smaller than they should have been, even though the cases included still provide some solid laughs.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of How to Get Sued is its lack of examples of copyright infringement cases although the cases included on naming rights are fascinating. In addition to the Sloppy Joe’s case, there is an intriguing legal battle between Hormel Foods Corporation, the makers of SPAM, and Jim Henson Productions, the company that made Muppet Treasure Island, in which Hormel claimed that the Muppet Spa’am defamed the product SPAM.
As fascinating as these cases are, they are still dealing with “analog era” intellectual property concerns, rather than those of the digital age. Given that we live in a time when it hasn’t even been settled whether Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain or not, very little attention is given in the book to the legal fights over copyright law. This mundane field, which may seem dull and dry at first, is of vital importance to libraries and their customers, for it determines whether works can be easily accessed in the public domain, or whether they require expensive payments to rights holders. The lack of attention to this issue, which will only intensify as time inches closer to the 2019 expiration of copyrights, is a major flaw in a book that otherwise provides good summaries of the many ways an individual can get sued.
How to Get Sued does accomplish what it sets out to do, which is to provide humorous summaries of strange and intense legal cases. It is a short book that most readers could finish easily in about three to four days. Although some aspects of the book’s chapters could benefit from a bit more analysis and length, this is overall an accessible, enjoyable read that will provide laughs for anyone interested in certain facets of the legal system.