September 25, 2018 Adventures in the Law

Adventures in the Law: Seeking a Change of Menu

Norman Tabler

Here’s a practice tip for attorneys: If you lose your temper in an Italian restaurant, don’t throw a pasta dinner at your opponent.

Or, if you can’t restrain yourself, check for innocent bystanders before you launch the pasta.

Attorney Jim Sweeney failed to heed this tip. Dining in Roma’s Ristorante, Jim argued with another patron, Mike Cosmos. Apparently finding words insufficient for making his point, an angry Jim hurled his pasta dinner at Mike. The dinner hit the intended target. Unfortunately, it also hit bystander Constance Koulmey—in the head. With hot pasta and sauce dripping into her eyes, Constance fell and suffered a concussion and other injuries.

Jim fled the scene and was long gone when the police arrived in response to a 911 call. They tracked him down several weeks later and charged him with breach of the peace and third-degree assault. The charges were dismissed after he successfully completed a rehabilitation program for first-time offenders.

When Constance sued Jim for her injuries, he argued for what might be called a “change of menu”, insisting that the topping on his pasta missile was not hot and spicy fra diavolo, as Constance alleged, but rather the milder cavatelli with sausage and broccoli.

Apparently unmoved by Jim’s cavatelli defense, the jury awarded Constance a little over $85,000—more than $102,000 counting interest.

That’s a lot of money for a pasta dinner that Jim never got to eat.

The case is Koulmey v. Sweeney, Conn. Super. Ct. 

Norman G. Tabler, Jr.

Norman G. Tabler, Jr., is a retired partner with Faegre Baker Daniels, where he led the firm’s health law practice. He serves on the editorial advisory boards of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division’s Voice of Experience, the ABA Health Law Section’s The Health Lawyer, and Law360 Health. He is the host of the American Health Lawyers podcast The Lighter Side of Health Law. He was educated at Princeton (A.B.), Yale (M.A.), and Columbia (J.D.). He may be reached at Norman.Tabler@FaegreBD.com.