It was one of those stupid, senseless things, the kind that makes me shake my head and mutter, "Damn fool kids."
It happened in a Starbucks outside of St. Louis on a spring day on 2008. Roger Kreutz, a local businessman, was waiting in line for his coffee when he saw a young man grab a tip jar containing around $5 and dart out the door.
Kreutz took off after him and they scuffled in the parking lot. Nineteen-year-old Aaron Poisson of Cumming managed to get in his car but as he pulled away Kreutz was knocked to the pavement. He suffered severe head injuries. Two days later, the 54-year-old man died.
Poisson, who had been visiting acquaintances in the area, was arrested later that week.
Kreutz left behind a devastated circle of family and friends. A year after his death, they gathered at that same parking lot where a redbud tree had been planted in his memory.
Earlier in the day, Poisson had pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and related charges and was sentenced to a year in the county jail.
Kreutz's brothers, Chris and Robert, invited Poisson's father, Gary, to join them in scattering some of their brother's ashes at the base of the sapling. Gary Poisson said at the time, "They set a true example to the community. They have been gracious, dignified and fair-minded. ... Both families went through a lot. They went through more, but both of us are permanently scarred: They had the loss of a loved one, and we've got a boy who's going to carry this for the rest of his life."
It was a time of remembrance and forgiveness and reconciliation between two families who had been tragically tossed together and were all working hard to make sense out of something so impossibly senseless. It brings to mind the term "grace."
A year later, in 2010, there was another gathering at the tree. This time, Gary Poisson was accompanied by his son, Aaron, who had completed his jail sentence and was living and working in Cumming. Over and over, a tearful Aaron was embraced by family and friends of Roger Kreutz. Over and over he was told, "We forgive you."
Then came this March, the third anniversary. This time there were no reports of hugs and tears around a redbud tree.
Rather, there were reports that Kreutz's father, Edward Sr., along with the dead man's estate, had filed a wrongful death lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
It wasn't against Aaron Poisson, the young man whose actions instigated the confrontation and whose car dealt the fatal blow. No, it was against Starbucks. It alleged that the coffee shop "invited criminal behavior" by leaving tip jars "within reach of customers" and "did not employ security to prevent the perpetration of such crimes."
It also alleged that Starbucks "invited the act of perpetration of said crime" by having a tip jar.
As a "direct and proximate" result of this, Kreutz was killed after he was hit by the car, the filing claims. The suit says that Starbucks had a duty to "exercise reasonable care" to protect Kreutz or give him adequate warning against harm.
Really? Starbucks should have had armed guards at the tip jar? Signs warning that leaving tips may be hazardous to your health?
Nothing disgusts me more than deep pocket litigation, when a defendant is targeted even when the true culpability is with another party, simply because the one with the deep pockets can afford to pay a hefty settlement or verdict. After all, who's going to provide a bigger payday? A north Georgia kid with a jail record or a company with assets of more than $6 billion?
Starbucks, I feel your pain. Years ago, I had a house remodeled. It was a nightmare from start to finish. Months after I wrote the final check to the contractor, I was slapped with a lawsuit from a local plumber, claiming he had not been paid.
In court, the judged asked him why the contractor had not been included in the suit. He just shrugged and answered honestly, "He ain't got no money." Case dismissed.
This is the sort of stuff that causes us to have to fill out reams of paperwork before sending a child on a field trip. It's there reason why curling irons now come with the warning "For external use only." It is the reason I give long and thoughtful consideration to any candidate who favors tort reform.
We all deserve our day in court. But this lawsuit lottery mentality is costing everyone big time. It clogs the courts and takes time and resources away from those with legitimate cases. It causes businesses and manufacturers to have to go to ridiculous lengths to anticipate any possible outcome no matter how unlikely and create absurd, costly warnings and safeguards.
I know the Kreutz family has suffered an unimaginable loss. Roger Kreutz was a good man who acted instinctively to right a wrong and he paid dearly.
This ridiculous lawsuit does nothing to honor his memory. In fact, it's one of those stupid, senseless things, the kind that makes me shake my head and mutter, "Damn fool lawyers."
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.