Confounded Expectations: The Law's Struggle with Personal Responsibility

Confounded Expectations: The Law's Struggle with Personal Responsibility

Confounded Expectations: The Law's Struggle with Personal Responsibility

Confounded Expectations: The Law's Struggle with Personal Responsibility


George W. Jarecke and Nancy K. Plant present a selection of cases across a broad spectrum of American law to demonstrate that t our society relies inappropriately on the legal system to cure ill the system was not designed to address.

Jarecke an Plant note that while we in the United States worry considerably about the problem on individual assumption of responsibility -- whether for personal mistakes, financial setbacks, or pure bad luck -- we appear uneasy about he concept and unclear bout what it mens on a daily basis. Not only are we incapable of accepting personal responsibility; we barely know what it mens to do so.

Mistakenly, we turn to the legal system to solve this dilemma. Yet our laws as our legislators write them, and as juries apply them send mixed messages about whether and how we should exercise personal responsibility.

Each chapter of confounded Expectation features one main case ot explain one legal theory, with other cases noted as examples of facets of each theory. To demonstrate the law that requires merchants to guarantee the quality of their product, for example, Jarecke and Plant discuss the case of the band the whose fund-raising luncheon menu included turkey salad contaminated by samonella. Peripheral cases include a horse falsely sold as a gelding, a riding mower that tipped over when used as instructed, makeup that was gerodontia to be safe but caused a rash, and pigs sick with hog cholera.


The police arrested John Bennis one night when he was cavorting with a prostitute in his wife's car on a Detroit city street. He was later convicted of gross indecency. Imagine how difficult that, in and of itself, must have been for the family. But more was yet to come. After the conviction, the State of Michigan sued John Bennis and his wife, Tina Bennis, the coowner of the car, in order to have the car declared a "public nuisance." State law provided that any vehicle used for prostitution can be declared a public nuisance, and all nuisances are to be "abated." In this legal context, to "abate" something is to put an end to or do away with it.

The mechanics are simple: the State established that the car had been used in the commission of a criminal act, so it was a nuisance. The court then had the discretion to order that the vehicle be seized and sold. The State could recover its costs of conducting the sale, and anything left over would go to the State's general fund.

Tina Bennis objected. She had no idea that her husband was making such use of the car, and no one could possibly believe that she condoned it. As a completely innocent party, she shouldn't have her car snatched away. But the Wayne County Circuit Court judge didn't believe that the State had to prove that Ms. Bennis knew that the car was a nuisance. The couple had another automobile, so they wouldn't be without any transportation. He ordered that the car be abated and sold with all of the cash going to the State. He could have ordered the payment of one-half of the proceeds to Ms. Bennis. However, the car was an eleven-year-old Pontiac sedan that the Bennises had purchased for six hundred dollars. After deducting the costs of the sale, the judge said, there wouldn't be much of anything left to split.

Tina Bennis appealed to the Michigan State Court of Appeals. She made two arguments based on her rights under the U.S. Constitution: one, that the State's seizing her car deprived her of her right to due process . . .

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