I had a revelation on a blustery late summer afternoon while walking around the university campus with my kid. It was my third year and I was getting so sick of studying I decided I would spend more time outdoors with my family than I had done in the previous years. My kid and I were walking near pine trees when a particularly good gust of wind dislodged pine needles from the tree and the needles then hit me in the face. I closed my eyes and flinched as some needles poked near my eyes. I was annoyed by the inconvenience and the thought of nearly losing some of my vision to such an unmanly foe as a pine needle. My next thought was more annoying, but I was down the road of legal doctrine before my consciousness overcame the unnecessary logic and hideous contemplation. I sat there and actually wondered if the tree was damaged in any way and if someone at the school knew about it, or should have known about it, and that damage led to the dislodging of more pine needles than usual which could have hurt my eye. In the event that my eye had been hurt, did I have a tort claim? Probably not, says the reasonable person (I just said reasonable person and now I want to vomit). But it was too late. I had already looked at the cards and played mental Hold ‘Em with a fictitious defendant for an injury to the eye. My purpose in spending time with my family was ruined. I was sad and repulsed at myself. It’s no one’s fault about the pine needles, they’re just pine needles. And it’s certainly not my son’s fault that his dad is now mentally ill with legal indoctrination. Why can’t I go back to the time when I never had even heard of the word tort?
I found it strangely amusing and shocking at the same time when I later realized I was not the only one to contemplate these ridiculous fact patterns. A colleague of mine who was asked to speak at graduation that year said basically the same story, almost word for word. I don’t recall if his version was whether it was pine cones, pine needles, or literally a low hanging branch that blew toward him, but the point is the same. We’re all sick.