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U.S. Supreme Court

Breyer Tells Cruise Line Operator that Everyone Makes Mistakes, His Wife Excepted

Posted Apr 22, 2010 10:41 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Justice Stephen G. Breyer challenged a lawyer for a cruise line operator during oral arguments Wednesday with a hypothetical that involved his wife’s driving instructions.

The justices were considering whether a plaintiff who slipped and fell on a cruise ship should be allowed to sue, despite naming the wrong party, according to accounts by The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times and Courthouse News Service.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, several times, that the cruise line operator “conveniently” waited until the statute of limitations had expired before notifying the lawyer for the passenger that he had sued the wrong party, Courthouse News Service says.

The lawyer for the cruise line, Robert Glazier, also ran into trouble when he asserted that there was no mistake when the plaintiff sued the booking agent, Costa Cruise, instead of the ship's owner, Costa Crociere. The issue was whether naming the wrong defendant was a mistake, since the plaintiff should have been aware of the correct party, under a federal rule governing such mistakes and the statute of limitations, the BLT says.

Breyer made his point with a question about driving, in an exchange that begins at page 20 of the transcript (PDF). "Have you ever driven a car where your wife has said turn left and you have turned right?" Breyer asked.

Scalia later jumped in, telling Breyer, "I think your wife made a mistake. I don't think you made a mistake.”

Breyer offered the response of a “dutiful husband,” according to the BLT. "No, my wife does not make mistakes."

"I make mistakes, and sometimes I make mistakes knowing all the facts, and so do you and so does everybody else,” Breyer said. “So I never heard of this thing that you can't make a mistake knowing all the facts."

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