The Unfortunate Case of Charles Bigbee and the Phone Booth

This Week's Wacky Wednesday: The Unfortunate Case of Charles Bigbee and the Phone Booth

This Week’s Wacky Wednesday: The Unfortunate Case of Charles Bigbee and the Phone Booth

Although the world is now almost entirely devoid of phone booths, they were once one of the most common sights along city streets. In the days before people had miniature computers and communication devices in their pockets, phone booths were the way that people called one another when they were out.

For Charles Bigbee, a custodian for the city of Los Angeles, there was no way he could know that his life would soon be in danger. When he finished his shift, he went to a nearby phone booth to make a call. When he was finishing his call, a drunk driver came barreling down the street. The driver left their lane and headed toward the phone booth.

Bigbee saw the car coming toward him, but he was unable to open the booth to get out in time. He was struck by the vehicle and suffered a substantial number of wounds that changed his life. Due to this, he was no longer able to work. He received money from the driver’s insurance company, but it was only $25,000 and not enough to cover all of his medical bills. Additionally, since he was no longer able to work, he had more bills piling up.

Fortunately, he had a good attorney. The lawyer did a little bit of digging and found that 20 months before Bigbee was injured, there was another accident that occurred with the same booth location. The previous accident had destroyed the booth. The phone company put up another phone booth at the location, but it had a faulty door. It was that defective door that made it impossible for Bigbee to escape when the drunk driver was coming toward the booth.

The phone company knew about the dangers and acted negligently. With this information, Bigbee and his attorney were able to sue them. He received a settlement for an undisclosed amount in 1986. When you look at all of the facts of the case, it becomes easy to see why Bigbee won the case. However, it wasn’t long before certain people tried to paint this lawsuit in a different light.

The Myth of Being a Frivolous Lawsuit

While there are certainly many cases that fall into the frivolous lawsuit category, this isn’t one of them, as you can plainly see from the information presented above. However, over the years, this case has unfortunately been lumped in with those sorts of lawsuits.

You might be asking yourself how this could be considered frivolous by anyone. It all starts with the American Tort Reform Association in 1986. This association was created by big businesses, corporations, and professional societies that felt they needed a shield from being held accountably by the civil legal system. They lobbied to have punitive damages capped, to get rid of joint and several liabilities, and to restrict non-economic damages.

Ronald Reagan gave a speech about the phone booth incident and said that it was “looney” that the man in the phone booth would decide to sue the phone company and the firms associated with it. However, what Reagan left out of the speech were all of the important facts that we’ve mentioned above. It was the fault of the phone company. However, because of that speech, this case has been wrongly lumped into the category of being a frivolous suit.

Lawsuits Are Often Necessary

As evidenced here, lawsuits brought against large companies are not always frivolous. Sometimes, they are necessary. Lawsuits can show companies that they aren’t above the law and will be held accountable when their actions and inactions put people in danger and cause harm.