Holiday mishaps and heart attacks usher in season of Christmas torts

Tis the season for Christmas torts and it is not just stockings hung from the chimney with care. Fathers are dangling from rooftops ensnared in lights while trees spontaneously combust to illuminate the coming of the new year. Christmas is proof that God first created man and then created counsel. Because after all, what holiday begins with a curiously dressed overweight man squeezing himself down your chimney? Even if he does not have a heart attack in your flue, his entry would satisfy the conditions of the Castle Doctrine in a majority states to repel him with lethal force.

Despite my teaching torts for decades, I am not immune from holiday mishaps. A few years back, I put our giant inflatable penguin on our rooftop and flipped the switch to make sure it would be straight and secure. That is the moment when I realized that there was not enough room for me and Pengy as he inflated. The problem was that Pengy was too large for me to reach the switch, and he cheerfully and relentlessly pushed me off the rooftop. I was able to catch the ladder just in time to avoid being one of the thousands of people who wind up in emergency rooms with embedded ornaments or garland strangulation injuries.


Now of course, for torts lawyers, decorated family homes are a nightmarish collage of accidents waiting to happen. That mistletoe hanging on the front door? Toxic for pets. The eggnog? A salmonella cocktail if not pasteurized and cooked. Those natural wreaths and sprays over the fireplace? A raging fire in the making. It is surprising that Christmas invites do not come with notarized waiver forms. This year has already seen a bumper crop of Christmas torts and misdemeanors. A new report in the health journal Advances in Integrative Medicine found that more than an estimated 173,000 people in the United States were injured between 2007 and 2016 by Christmas trees, lights, and other holiday decorations. There is no event this season that is not ripe with risk.

More than 270 children were injured visiting Santa by struggling not to be put on the lap of the giant elf or fleeing in terror. There were more than 17,900 injuries involving artificial Christmas trees and more than 2,200 injuries involving natural Christmas trees. Even tree stands and supports felled over 2,800 people. Tree lights claimed over 31,800 injuries across the nation while other electrical decorations caused around 36,000 other injuries. Nonelectrical decorations took out more than 80,200 people.

Then there are the holiday season heart attacks. Swedish researchers found that Christmas Eve produces a 37 percent spike in heart attacks with the greatest number around 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Even Santa is not immune. One Santa in Siberia last week died of a heart attack in front of waiting children. Other Santas can be out of sorts like many stressed out celebrants. A week ago, a Santa in England panicked after a fire alarm went off in the Christmas village. He tore off his beard and outfit and began screaming at the kids and parents with an expletive to get out. One mother was heard explaining to her confused child that the man is not the real Santa but rather an imposter who will be going on the naughty list.

Others have already made the ultimate naughty list. In South Carolina, Cameron Lewis Baun appeared to have misheard the lyrics from “Do you want to build a snowman?” in the movie Frozen. Instead, he apparently wanted to burn a snowman and was arrested for going on an alleged spree of arson in burning Christmas decorations. In Wisconsin, Gregory Brannigan is facing misdemeanor charges after a woman reported that he was tearing down decorations. Oh, yes, he also happened to be reindeer buck naked. In Texas, Aaron Urbanski was arrested after he and some others stood in front of the Saint Mark United Methodist Church during a Christmas show yelling at children that there is no Santa and their parents are lying to them. After his arrest, Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain simply declared, “Do not mess with Santa,” though the city is now looking at a potential legal challenge for messing with First Amendment rights.

Some brazen intruders have escaped accountability this season. In Florida, a bear tore down the festive decorations on one home and then was captured on video ringing the doorbell as if to say, “How do you like your anthropomorphizing displays now?” Even Disney World had its share of decked Santas this year. In its beloved Christmas parade this month, Santa was suddenly ejected from his seat in front of hundreds of children and left dangling from a safety harness in a float mishap. The families just cheered because, as one explained, they did not know what else to do.

The answer is to call your seasonal “slip and fall” lawyer, one of many ready to cover that dangling elf or burning snowman. Christmas counsel work tirelessly each holiday in their own little workshops to be ready for the festive and tinsel laden carnage of the season. When needed, they can bring a little contingency for your flaming nativity. For my part, we are set for our annual 12 hour drive in a beat up van to Chicago in the dead of winter with four kids, a large dog with a lap fetish, and an overstuffed luggage rack. What could possibly go wrong? Because after all, it is not just the celebration that makes Christmas so special. It is the survival.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.