Four years ago in Newport, Delaware, Nigel Sykes reportedly forced his way into the local Seasons Pizza and attempted to rob the business. After showing a gun to one of the employees, he almost made it out the door with $140 in hand. However, another employee tackled him to the ground before he could get away. And that’s where this story takes an unexpected turn.
According to DelawareOnline, a local news journal, Sykes is suing the pizzeria, its employees who tackled him, and the arresting officers for using “unnecessary force” during the thwarted robbery. In his federal civil complaint, he is seeking $260,000:
- $20,000 each from six Seasons employees.
- $20,000 from the two arresting officers.
- $100,000 from Seasons Pizza.
U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson allowed the case to move forward, much to everyone’s surprise. And if you’re surprised that such a lawsuit can go to trial, keep reading. Frivolous claims happen all the time to small-business owners – some of which you may never see coming.
Sick, Sad World: The Strange Details of a Strange Case
In Sykes’s complaint, he notes that Seasons’ employees used excessive force while restraining him and wrestling away the gun (which resulted in a single shot fired into a nearby trashcan. Luckily, no one was hurt). According to the claim, the Seasons Pizza’s employees repeatedly punched, kicked, and poured hot soup on Sykes. He claims he was beaten until he was unconscious, only to wake to two Newport police officers using stun guns on him. He says he was denied immediate medical attention for his wounds and burns.
Though seemingly absurd, the case isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. Armed robber or not, Sykes is still a third party (i.e., someone who doesn’t work for a business) who suffered bodily injuries on commercial premises. Moreover, he suffered those injuries because of the actions of the establishment’s employees. Given the circumstances that led to those injuries, though, it seems unlikely that Sykes will elicit much favor in a court of law.
It’s easy to think something like this would never happen to your small business. But freak accidents happen all the time. (Related: “How General Liability Insurance Can Protect Fitness Instructors, Athletic Trainers, and Personal Trainers from Freak Accidents.”) And even if the lawsuit doesn’t result in damages awarded, simply addressing the claim costs time and money.
How Frivolous Lawsuits Drain Your Bank Account
When your business is slapped with a lawsuit – no matter its credibility – you must respond. Failure to respond to the claim could result in a default judgment. In other words, if you ignore the thing, the judge may grant the plaintiff all the monetary demands requested in the lawsuit. And you can’t have that.
So you must hire a lawyer and try to get the suit dismissed on legal grounds. Even if your motion is granted and the case is dropped, you can still expect to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 in attorney fees. For most small-business owners, that price tag alone is a heavy hit.
The good news is that small business liability insurance was engineered expressly for these kinds of expensive, unavoidable lawsuits. For example, General Liability Insurance can step in when your business is sued over…
- Bodily injuries that happen on your commercial property.
- Property damage that you or your employees cause while carrying out your work.
- Advertising injuries, such as copyright infringement, slander, or libel. (For more details, read “The Small Business Guide to Dealing with Unfounded Advertising Injury Lawsuits over Social Networking Posts.”)
You can learn more about the kinds of situations that lead to lawsuits and the insurance coverages that can protect your business in our blog post, “Your Business Is Facing a Civil Lawsuit. Now What?”