Legal Roundup: Wisconsin Court Overturns Stay-at-Home, Funeral Home Faces Mutilation Charge and More

The latest court decisions involving risk management and the insurance industry.
By: | May 18, 2020

Wisconsin Supreme Court Overturns Stay-At-Home Orders

The Case: Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin sued to remove stay-at-home orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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After the virus killed 418 people in the state, the Department of Health Services issued the order based on a law allowing it to close schools, businesses and other places to control outbreaks, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Republican lawmakers claimed the orders were an overstep.

Scorecard: The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the stay-at-home orders, immediately allowing businesses to open. Schools will remain closed until the fall.

“With no COVID-19 policies in place, bars, restaurants and concert halls are allowed to reopen — unless local officials implement their own restrictions. That raises the prospect of a patchwork of policies, with rules varying significantly from one county to the next,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Takeaway: Bars were packed hours after the ruling. It remains to be seen whether the state will have a higher rate of COVID-19 outbreaks as a result.

Gov Tony Evers said: “Republican legislators convinced four members of the Supreme Court to throw the state into chaos,” according to the newspaper.

He will be submitting a new plan this week. Meanwhile, the lawmakers who brought the suit — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — said “it was Evers who ‘set the table for chaos’ by lifting restrictions on retail businesses this week instead of following his own reopening plan that required certain benchmarks to be met first.” 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board agrees that the Evers administration overstepped emergency powers.

“The U.S. Constitution grants states broad police powers to protect public welfare, and many states like Wisconsin have laws that let governors suspend rules during emergencies. But this doesn’t mean that governors can do whatever they want whenever they proclaim an emergency.”

XFL Commissioner, Vince McMahon Spar in Lawsuit

The Case: Although the XFL’s playing days are over, the football league still has one competition left — a court case between Commissioner Oliver Luck and owner Vince McMahon. (If you recognize McMahon’s name, it’s because he’s the brains behind WWE wrestling.)

Luck is suing McMahon for wrongful termination and breach of contract over his April 9 firing, according to the Sports Business Journal.

The league filed for bankruptcy just four days later. The league was off to a hot start but was forced to stop play when the COVID-19 outbreak hit.

McMahon claims Luck was “fired for ‘gross neglect’ of his job during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, personal use of a league-issued iPhone and signing former NFLer Antonio Callaway despite McMahon’s orders to avoid players with troubled legal histories,” the Sports Business Journal reported.

Luck disputes those claims and is seeking “$23.8M, remaining from a contract that originally called for $7M annually over five years, plus extensive benefits” which he says was personally guaranteed by McMahon, the newspaper reported.

Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed.

Takeaway: Departures can be messy, especially if business didn’t turn out as you’d hoped.

Quiet End to Very Public Lawsuit Against Google

The Case: Ex-Google employee James Damore sued the tech giant two years ago, claiming it discriminated against conservative white men.

Damore criticized “the company’s efforts to improve diversity among its workforce. He made the controversial assertions in a memo that circulated throughout the company, triggering an internal culture war,” according to USA Today.

Scorecard: Damore and three others involved in the suit dropped the case on May 20, according to USA Today.

The reasons are shrouded in secrecy. A lawyer for the men said they are prohibited from commenting.

Takeaway: Diversity has never been a strong suit of Silicon Valley. Just 5.5% of Google’s hires are black, according to the newspaper — and that’s after the company vowed to focus more on diversity.

Meanwhile Google is coming under fire for rolling back diversity and inclusion programs in an effort to appear unbiased against conservatives.

NBC News explains: “Since 2018, internal diversity and inclusion training programs have been scaled back or cut entirely, four Google employees and two people who recently left the company told NBC News in interviews. In addition, they said, the team responsible for those programs has been reduced in size, and positions previously held by full-time employees have been outsourced or not refilled after members of the diversity teams left the company.”

Lawsuit Claims Body Mutilated to Fit Into Coffin 

The Case: A funeral home in New Mexico is being sued for allegedly mutilating a 26-year-old man’s body to make him fit into a small coffin.

The Albuquerque Journal explains: “A lawsuit filed in state District Court in Albuquerque last week alleges that French Funerals and Cremations broke Dakota Powell’s legs to fit him into his coffin. Dakota was 6-foot-4, but mourners immediately noticed that the coffin was not even 6 feet long.”

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Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed and is still ongoing.

Takeaway: The president of the funeral home told the Albuquerque Journal its insurance company did an investigation and found no wrongdoing.

Powell’s family claims they asked an employee why the coffin was so small.

The employee “callously stated that they had to disfigure and mutilate Dakota Powell’s body by ‘breaking his legs’ so he would fit in the coffin,” according to the newspaper.

They’re suing for compensatory damages, punitive damages, mental anguish, and pain and suffering. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]