Looking forward to Thanksgiving? Are you sure you should be? The combination of sometimes-hotheaded family members and turkey, a foodstuff uniquely suited to the potential for food poisoning, can lead to litigation marring the day.

A real estate website, Estately, has even gone so far as to rank which states have the potential for the very worst Thanksgivings, using an admittedly subjective ranking system that takes into account the potential for: salmonella poisoning, binge drinking, political fights, people with dietary restrictions, and how likely it is that your favorite NFL team will lose. (In case you’re wondering, Ohio is apparently the very worst state for Thanksgiving. Buckeye state residents, beware.) While you gear up for this year’s holiday, here are some past lawsuits and mishaps that can serve as cautionary tales.

Hard to Swallow

Wishbone isolated on white background

Way back in 1938, when you could still dine at Woolworths, a woman ordered a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, only to end up choking on a not-delicious chunk of bone that showed up in her dressing. She sued, demanding $5001 The court declined to find Woolworths at fault, noting that since your dressing is usually adjacent to your turkey and turkeys have bones, and you basically assume the risk of bones in meat and need to remain ever-vigilant against swallowing them, the woman was out of luck. Lesson: be as cavalier as you please when carving that turkey.

Homemade Tattoos Should Not Be on the Menu

Tattoo machine on light gray background

So you’ve finished your meal, and instead of laying around in a food coma, you think: wouldn’t it be an outstanding idea if we jury-rigged a tattoo gun and tattooed all our underage children?

Police say the “parents of the year” used a plastic pen body with a needle made from a guitar string connected to an electric motor to tattoo six children and themselves.

Five children, ages 10 to 17, got a cross-like tattoo on their hands and a sixth had “mom and dad” inked on his arm — in honor of you know who..

Only the youngest child was ink-free.

People, if you’re going to get group body art for the holiday, at least go to a tattoo parlor.

The Worst Possible Defense

Face palm, retro disappointed man slapping forehead

In J.S. v. J.F., 410 N.J. Super 611 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009), the latter harassed the former, his girlfriend, so much so that she requested a restraining order and prevailed at trial. J.F. decided on a rather unique argument upon appeal: J.S. couldn’t be the victim of domestic violence because she wasn’t his girlfriend—she was a paid escort he’d hired to accompany him to various family events.

For example, defendant initially asserted that he paid defendant to be his escort at Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ home. However, upon further examination by the judge, defendant admitted he did not pay plaintiff for her company on that occasion:

Q. Did you pay her to come to Thanksgiving dinner? Yes or no?
A. Yes.
Q. You paid her?
A. Yes.
Q. How much did you pay her?
A. Well, it—for the—it wasn’t —
Q. For to—you said she was an escort for Thanksgiving dinner.
A. Right.
Q. Did you pay her to come to Thanksgiving dinner? Did you tell her “I want you to be the escort for Thanksgiving dinner, and how much is it going to cost?”
A. No.
Q. So you didn’t pay her for the Thanksgiving dinner?
A. No.

You will be unsurprised to learn this defense didn’t work out for J.F.

Would You like Some Foodborne Illness with Your Holiday Meal?

Comic man character pukes rainbow. Vector flat cartoon illustration

Every year, pretty much every organization in the world warns us all that if you don’t cook your turkey to one billion degrees or whatever, you will probably die. The sheer frequency and similarity of warnings can make you feel like this is overblown, but that isn’t always the case.

The investigation documented Salmonella serotype Enteritidis (SE) infection associated with eating improperly prepared turkey and stuffing containing eggs and emphasizes the need to use a meat thermometer to ensure complete cooking of turkey and stuffing.

During November 25-28, 1995, all six persons who attended a Thanksgiving dinner at a private home on November 23 and a seventh person who on November 25 ate food remaining from the dinner had onset of abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Two persons were hospitalized because of dehydration; a third person was found comatose at home and died from severe dehydration and sepsis.

Having one of your guests actually perish is a bad look for the holidays, and can presumably lead to a veritable onslaught of litigation. Just buy some meat thermometers, people.

This Is Not the Way to Save a Few Bucks on Thanksgiving

Businessman holding sign dollar in box

Thanksgiving can be expensive. (Super-expensive if someone dies, probably.) You are probably always looking for ways to cut costs. One way not to do it, however, is to have your tax preparer try to get you a deduction for it. The court in U.S. v. Musin, 953 F.Supp.2d 944 (2011), really didn’t like this approach.

The point concerning deductions for personal groceries should be obvious. There were no circumstances under which defendants could properly deduct a family’s Thanksgiving meal. Similarly, no circumstances justify deducting a taxpayer’s daily stops at Starbucks on the way to the office.

In case you were thinking of trying this out, these folks are now permanently enjoined from preparing taxes any longer.

  1. Around $8,500 in today’s dollars, in case you were wondering. 

Lisa Needham
Lisa Needham is an editor at Lawyerist.com, helps direct the legal writing program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and still believes in the Oxford comma.

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