The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

Torts and the Law

Oh for crying out loud. Just give him a nickel and let’s get going.

In the season two episode “Bart Gets Hit by a Car,” Mr. Burns runs over Bart so Homer sues him for expenses and damages in relation to Bart’s injuries. However, Homer sues for substantially more than just the medical bills - he wants a million dollars. This lawsuit has its roots in an area of civil law known as torts.

What is a Tort?

The word tort simply means a wrong. A tort occurs when someone deliberately or carelessly causes harm or loss to another person or their property.

Generally, tort law is not about punishment but instead about determining damages such as medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses to which a dollar value is attached. There are also other types of damages, such as pain and suffering, that are difficult to measure in money. For these types of damages, a judge will award an amount she or he thinks is reasonable.

Much of the process of tort law involves determining who is at fault and the extent of the damage.

The Simpsons’ Case

Because Mr. Burns caused harm to Bart, Homer sued for medical bills and other damages. He likely had sound reason to try to get compensation for the medical bills, as this is consistent with the main purpose of tort law: The wrongdoer compensates the person who suffers a loss or injury.

However, in the hopes of getting a million dollars in damages, Homer coached Bart to lie and allowed false medical information from Dr. Nick Riviera to be presented in court.

While television often shows juries awarding enormous amounts of money as compensation to injured people, in Canada, having a jury in a civil case is rare and windfall compensation is rarer still. Because the true extent of Bart’s injuries were exposed during the court proceedings, Mr. Burns did not end up paying any damages, not even Bart’s medical bills.

  1. Given that Homer ended up with no money from Mr. Burns, what message does this episode send about abusing the legal system?
  2. The awarding of substantial damages for pain and suffering is very rare in Canada.
    1. What effect do you think this has on tort lawsuits?
    2. What do you think about awarding substantial damages for pain and suffering?