Legal ramifications of trying to help others? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

We live in a litigious society (at least here in the U.S. of A.). Are there any legal problems we need to anticipate with respect to helping others?

For example, suppose you have a water filter and people come over and ask you for drinking water. If you collect rainwater or get buckets of water from a nearby lake or stream and then filter it, and the filter doesn't remove everything (bird droppings, pesticides, herbicides, whatever) that can cause the person drinking it to get sick (or worse yet, die), are you setting yourself up for a lawsuit? I mean, I want to help if I can, but not if there's a good chance that trying to do that will create legal difficulties down the road.

What can you do to mitigate such problems? Do you draft a form that people have to sign saying they won't sue you if you're attempting to the best of your ability to help them? Would this be supportable in a court of law? Is there something else you can do? Any thoughts?

-- Don (, May 20, 1999


Stop worrying. If there's a serious breakdown of society there won't BE any lawsuits. The lawyers & judges will be trying to scrounge food & protect their families just like everyone else. It takes a fairly high degree of specialization for a court to function, remember? ...Plus, no one has practiced law without using computers for about 20 years now. NO one will have any idea what to do. A mitigating factor for sure.

-- hang (all@the.lawyers), May 20, 1999.

"What can you do to mitigate such problems? Do you draft a form that people have to sign saying they won't sue you if you're attempting to the best of your ability to help them? Would this be supportable in a court of law? Is there something else you can do? Any thoughts? "

Sure "the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers" William Shakespeare, Henry VI

-- kozak (kozak@formerusaf.guv), May 20, 1999.

I suggest, with a previous poster, that one of the best behaviors to add to your life repertoire is to ignore lawyers. Now or mid and post Y2K, ignore them,...they'll go away.

-- Donna (, May 20, 1999.

Not to go into a long story, but something sort of like this happened to me via contact with the .mil. the .mil's answer to me was "prove you got the contact from us". So, I guess that said person would have to prove without a doubt that anything you provided to them made them sick (or dead). They would have to prove it wasn't something else that they ate/drank or touched. Kinda hard to prove. Just my own experience here... your experience may vary

-- (cannot-say@this.time), May 20, 1999.

With respect to the Shakespeare quote from Henry VI, "the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers," you clearly have never read that play.

If you had, you would have realized that the quote is a suggestion for how to create strife, violence, mob rule and the overthrown of civilized society.

Nevertheless, I think it's a wonderful example of how data is taken out of context and distorted on this board.

-- Jeff Donohue (, May 20, 1999.

Thanks Jeff. I've never read the play either but I've heard that quote out of context a hundred times.

-- Shimrod (, May 20, 1999.

Uh, Jeff. That should be "data are." Datum is, don'tcha know? Erudition is as erudition does.

-- Larry (Not, May 20, 1999.

Actually, Larry, there are at least two grammatical errors in my post, the data/datum error being only one.

My point was not to attempt to "show off" or demonstrate that I am (or am not) more erudite (what a pretentious word!) than others. My point was to compare the inaccurate perception of the quote (i.e., that Shakespeare thought that killing lawyers would be a good idea) with the real intent of the quote (i.e., that he [or his character] felt that doing so would prompt civil unrest and reduce civil liberties).

By demonstrating that error, I was attempting to analogize that inaccurate perception with many others casually thrown around this board.

So what precisely was your point, Larry?

-- Jeff Donohue (, May 20, 1999.

Not so sure that it's really out of context: Henry VI, Act 2

Fella named Jack Cade is stirring up rebellion against King Henry VI (who seems like a very nice man, but is frankly unfit to rule.) The famous line is uttered by one of Cade's followers, Dick the Butcher (sounds kinda like a Mafioso, dunnit?)

While Cade and company are clearly a mob (and a very smelly one at that), they are rebelling against a King and court who are woefully out of touch, and who are much more interested in their own positions (and in taking out their enemies) than in the general welfare. Cade has some speeches that sound a lot like many a modern demagogue, promising his "subjects" the moon and stars, but his rebellion is really just part of more fundamental social unrest, culminating in the great civil war known as "The War of the Roses".

I've seen two different productions of Henry VI, Part 2. That line got a huge cheer from the audience (one was British, the other American) each time, and it was of course heard completely in context.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), May 20, 1999.

I've said this before to my friends back in the real world, and I'll say it here strictly tongue in cheek, as humor only, not actual advice, your mileage may vary, buyer beware, enter at your own risk, do not operate machinery while contemplating this idea.

If you are even a little bit afraid that you may not get into heaven, would it not make sense to "take" a lawyer with you when you go?

-- Unc D (, May 20, 1999.

Even now, if you get the "Tijuana trots" it's hard to prove where from, even if you think you know, yourself.

-- A (, May 20, 1999.

I think that the wrong issue is being concentrated on here. Water purification supplies are surely going to be in short supply like other critical items next year. It seems like disloyalty to one's family to give away in May the water purification supplies you will need to provide them with safe drinking water later in 2000, to say nothing of the years to come after that... Now, if other people want to trade you something (skill/critical supplies) that you would rather have than some water treatment supplies you have in gross excess of your perceived future needs, that is another story. Besides, if someone else uses the equipment, not you, you would seem to be off the hook if lawyers are still suing people at that point. (I think they will have had to get jobs by that time). MinnesotaSmith

P.S. My website ( has a bunch of updated versions for anyone who wants to look at them.

-- MinnesotaSmith (, May 20, 1999.

Check your State statutes - most have something usually referred to as a "Good Samaritan" law - acting as a "reasonably prudent" person would do to help another, you are not liable for any damages.

-- dakota (, May 20, 1999.

Mr Donohoe, thats one interpretation (favored by lawyers). Heres another from Seth Finkelstein

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" - it's a lawyer joke

Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyer. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person's frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it's known known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare's plays, but usually there's little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of "correction", where it is "explained" that this is line really intended as a praise of the lawyer's role.

For example, one legal firm states:

"The first thing we do," said the character in Shakespeare's Henry VI, is "kill all the lawyers." Contrary to popular belief, the proposal was not designed to restore sanity to commercial life. Rather, it was intended to eliminate those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution -- thus underscoring the important role that lawyers can play in society. (from Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP Firm Profile) Or

As the famous remark by the plotter of treachery in Shakespeare's King Henry VI shows - "The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers," - the surest way to chaos and tyranny even then was to remove the guardians of independent thinking. (from THINKING LIKE A LAWYER) The argument of this remark as in fact being favorable to lawyers is a marvel of sophistry, twisting of the meaning of words in unfamiliar source, disregard of the evident intent of the original author and ad hominem attack. Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.

The line is actually uttered by a character "Dick The Butcher". While he's a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements. The wisecracking villain is not an invention of modern action movies, it dates back to Shakespeare and beyond.

The setup for the "kill the lawyers" statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The built-up is long portion where Cade make vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

JACK CADE. Valiant I am. SMITH [aside]. 'A must needs; for beggary is valiant.

JACK CADE. I am able to endure much.

DICK [aside]. No question of that; for I have seen him whipp'd three market-days together.

JACK CADE. I fear neither sword nor fire.

SMITH [aside]. He need not fear the sword; for his coat is of proof.

DICK [aside]. But methinks he should stand in fear of fire, being burnt i' th'hand for stealing of sheep.

You can almost hear the rim-shot after everything Dick or Smith say here. Cade proceeds to go more and more over the top, and begins to describe his absurd ideal world:

JACK CADE. Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,- as king I will be,- ALL. God save your majesty!

Appreciated and encouraged, he continues on in this vein: JACK CADE. I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord. And here is where Dick speaks the famous line. DICK. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this. Far from "eliminating those who might stand in the way of a contemplated revolution" or portraying lawyers as "guardians of independent thinking", it's offered as the best feature imagined of yet for utopia. It's hilarious. A very rough and simplistic modern translation would be "When I'm the King, there'll be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in every pot" "AND NO LAWYERS". It's a clearly lawyer-bashing joke. This is further supported by the dialogue just afterwards (which is actually quite funny even now, and must have been hilarious when the idiom was contemporary): DICK. The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. JACK CADE. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings: but I say, 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.- How now! who's there?

He might just as well have been describing "shrink-wrap" software licensing agreements today in the last sentence. To understand what Cade is saying here, you have to know that documents of the time were likely parchment, and sealed with wax. So when he says "Some say the bees stings; but I say, 'tis the bee's wax". he's making an ironic comment somewhat akin to "Some men rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen". And the fact that he himself is an evil man only serves to heighten the irony, not discredit the sentiment - the more evil he is, the more the contrast is apparent. It makes as much sense to conclude that since the "kill the lawyers" joke is expressed by villains, who later commit murderous deeds "there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score" is an approval of Libertarian thought, and a warning about Communists.

Now, just after this exchange, the scene changes tone. The gang commits the murder of the clerk of chatham. Here is the second level of Shakespeare's commentary on law and layers, where the murder is carried out according to scrupulous procedure, a parody of law:

JACK CADE. I am sorry for't: the man is a proper man, of mine honour; unless I find him guilty, he shall not die.- Come hither, sirrah, I must examine thee: what is thy name? By this contrast Shakespeare thus makes in an alternating, connected, comedic and tragic manner the age-old point about the difference between *law* (and those who argue it) and *justice*. Cade makes up his "version" of law to his own ends, to the justification of his evil deeds, which is reminiscent of the context which commonly provokes "kill the lawyers" (where the phrase is in wry protest of actions thought to be the same in form, if not in degree). Far from being "out of context" the usage is more true to the original than most people know. Now, compares this to the description given by the web page Lawyers are Our Friends!

Cade's friend Dick the Butcher, being only barely smarter than Cade, knew Cade's scheme could not succeed if the learned advisors to the real King actually investigated Cade's lineage. So, Dick the Butcher advised Cade that "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," hoping that this tactic would prevent Cade from being discovered as an imposter. At least in Shakespeare's time, lawyers were regarded as the protectors of truth. That lawyer is being a protector of some sort, but it doesn't seem to be of the truth! In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions. In "Romeo and Juliet", Mercutio uses the line "O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees;" In "King Lear", the fool defends a speech in riddles by comparing it to an "unfee'd lawyer":

EARL OF KENT. This is nothing, fool. FOOL. Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer,- you gave me nothing for't.- Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?

There's a very long and lawyer-uncomplimentary passage in Hamlet. Note the similarity of the "parchment" joke to that seen in Henry VI, part 2. HAMLET. There's another: why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddits now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha? HORATIO. Not a jot more, my lord.

HAMLET. Is not parchment made of sheep-skins?

HORATIO. Ay, my lord, and of calf-skins too.

HAMLET. They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance in that. I will speak to this fellow.- Whose grave's this, sirrah?

As long as there are lawyer, there will be "lawyer jokes". And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- Seth Finkelstein is a software developer and Internet activist. ther:

-- kozak (kozak@formerusaf.guv), May 21, 1999.


I only wish my concerns could filter down to consideration of such fine points! Some thirsty, or hungry, or injured person comes to your door begging for help and you're going to whip out a pen and a triplicate form? Hahahahaaaa. That's a good one. (psst...I think that line about the pen being mightier than a sword was just a metaphor.)

-- Faith Weaver (, May 21, 1999.

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