Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

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Cryogenics, or the practice of freezing dead bodies so that they can be revived in the future, currently occupies a special place between junk science and fraudulent fantasy land. There are a handful of places across the world that will take your money and put your dead body in a frozen tube, until the power fails or gets shut off. While the hope is that your dead body will be revivable in a few hundred, or thousand, years, there's quite a bit to be skeptical about.

Fortunately, unless you fork over a small boatload of cash and sign some pretty specific and legally binding paperwork, your dead body won't get made into an icicle. There was an exception for the baseball player Ted Williams, however. Williams' remains were cryogenically frozen by his two children, prompting an unusual legal battle with their half-sister. Given the case of Ted Williams, there definitely remain quite a few legal questions surrounding this issue.

The State of Texas is considering legislation to impose criminal penalties against individuals who falsely claim their pets are service animals. While this is a tragically common occurrence, the Texas law is nothing new. Under federal law, and many other states' laws, it is a crime to falsely claim a pet as a service animal.

Essentially, by claiming a pet is a service animal, a person is faking a disability to get the benefits that a disabled person is entitled to. The Texas bill would make it a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of $300 and 30 hours of community service. To be found guilty, a person would have to identify their animal as a service animal, and could do so simply by using a typical service animal type harness, or vest, and would need to have done so for the purpose of getting the benefit of having a service animal.

A Montana State University professor has filed a libel lawsuit against Walmart over the job description a Walmart employee entered on the professor's fishing license application. Rather than list the professors actual occupation of college professor, the employee wrote "cleans toilets." The following year, when the professor went to renew the license, the error remained despite the professor again informing the clerk of his occupation.

When the professor showed his license to fellow MSU teacher, the other teacher made a joke, within earshot of other students, about the fact that "cleans toilets" was listed on the license. The professor's lawsuit explains that in his culture, in Zambia, people who clean toilets are considered to be the lowest social class, and are shunned. The lawsuit asserts that the professor suffered embarrassment and shock as a result.

A recent court decision out of Maine will likely be used in classrooms for generations to come. That's not because it tells a worthwhile story of American history, nor does it involve famous personalities, nor because it's so well written it merits inclusion in America's literary canon. Rather, it simply shows how significant an Oxford comma can be when determining the meaning of a sentence. And if you don't know what an Oxford comma is, read on, because, clearly, it's pretty important to writing clearly and effectively.

This case boiled down to one statute with a list of exemptions, separated by commas, except for the last exclusion. Essentially, dairy delivery drivers were claiming that under Maine law, they were entitled to overtime wages, despite their employer claiming they were excluded by the very same Maine law. However, that law is not so clear on whether delivery drivers would be exempt or not. And you guessed it, that ambiguity is the result of a missing Oxford comma.

It's rare that deaths by natural causes make the headlines, but one Miami man's death recently garnered some attention. Jacob Morpeau, aged 62, died of natural causes while parked in his car a few blocks from the county courthouse. What makes his death legally weird is that for four days, city parking officials continued to issue citations to Morpeau's vehicle, presumably with him dead inside, sometimes two tickets at a time.

One concerned citizen, who was curious about how a car could rack up so many parking ticket went to take a closer look at Morpeau's vehicle. That's when she discovered that Morpeau was in his SUV slumped over, and dead. County officials have dismissed the $160 in parking citations, but have not issued a statement as to how parking enforcement could have missed the dead body in the car. The good Samaritan however explained that Morpeau was slumped beneath the steering wheel out of sight.

Okay, so it's a fictional TV show about a fictional amusement park with fictional characters. But it's a really cool show, and one that has the tendency to make lawyers yell at the screen. Even in a fictional world where characters are told there are no laws, viewers may wonder how legal liability might play out in real life.

Well, HBO knows their audience well. A quick Google search will bring you to a Westworld website designed to make the TV show look real. In fact, the site even has the "Terms of Delos Destinations" as a linkable document that you can read. Apparently, if you read through the terms, the guests in Westworld are asked to waive their rights to pursue claims against the amusement park specifically in the event of dismemberment.

In both Minnesota and California this past week, two cities elected dead candidates to lead them. In Oceanside, CA, Gary Ernst was elected as treasurer, despite having died in September before the election. In Lindstrom, MN, Joe Wishy was also elected and also passed away in September before the election.

In both unfortunate scenarios, the ballot process prevented any changes from being made to remove the deceased candidates from the ballot. While one might think that the candidate with the next highest amount of votes would then win, that's not the case. Since the candidates were running for different positions, and in different states, each situation will play out differently.

Being an inmate in a Texan prison is already bad enough, but during Banned Books Week last week, the state's institutions were under the spotlight for their censorship of canonical literary works. Apparently, Texas prisons are notorious for banning books with virtually no oversight and based on extraordinarily subjective criteria.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, a non-profit organization, has been on the front lines of the fight to change the policy within the Texas Department of Corrections and Justice. In the TCRP report, it is explained that the state's prison system in Texas basically leaves the decision of whether to ban a book up to the mailroom clerk. The TCRP report explains that mail clerks are instructed to review for whether the work in question:

An amazing story unfolded last week in San Francisco. Victor Rodriguez, a twenty-year-old inmate, was released from San Francisco County Jail last Wednesday -- on accident! After a few days on the lam and after the story started getting press, Mr. Rodriguez did turn himself in to authorities.

Apparently, the accident that provided Rodriguez with the free pass occurred when the court clerk erroneously dismissed all charges. That clerk better have a V8 next time. Rodriguez had been charged with additional crimes since his arrest and when the judge sought to dismiss the new charges only, the clerk accidentally dismissed the whole case.

In an odd case of becoming the thing you hate, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has been assigned to serve as defense counsel on a criminal case by the state's public defender office. This is the same public defender's office whose budget he's been slashing for the past seven years.

In response to these budget cuts, Director of the Missouri State Public Defender Michael Barrett invoked a previously unused state statute that gives his office authority to assign cases to private attorneys. Gov. Nixon, previously the state's attorney general, was Barrett's attorney of choice.