College is the best four years of your life—sometimes the best five to seven years depending on how much fun you end up having. While you’re enjoying your time at Slippery Rock, you rarely stop to think of the consequences of some of your actions—trust me, I did some really dumb things while I was having a good time at SRU, and now I see just how much trouble I could’ve gotten myself into.
I’m not here to preach, or to try to stop anyone from enjoying their time at SRU. I just want to make sure you’re all aware of the possible consequences of your actions so you can decide if the risks you take are really worth it. I’m currently a law student at Penn State after graduating from SRU last year, and I just finished our course on Torts, or civil action claims. As an example of some of the actions people take without knowing how much trouble they can get into, I’ll breakdown the incident where someone put a dead deer on another student’s car as plainly as I can.
There are a number of torts the student, or students, who placed the deer on the hood of someone else’s car could be held liable for, including: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED), False Imprisonment, and Trespass of Chattel. All of these are serious claims which could hold the person who committed these torts liable for substantial damages (could be forced to pay a lot of money).
First I’ll talk about how the person, or persons, who did this could be liable for IIED. Someone’s liable when through his or her extreme and outrageous conduct he or she intentionally or recklessly causes the extreme emotional distress of another person. Not getting too technical into the meaning of each of those elements, the ones responsible for the deer being placed on the car can be liable for IIED even if it was done as a good natured joke—if the actors knew that the person whose car they put the dead deer on could be emotionally harmed by it then they can still be held liable. Damages for IIED can vary, but normally they cover any and all therapy the victim requires and punitive damages can also be awarded. Depending on how affected the victim is, those costs can be very—very high.
Next I’ll talk about how the ones responsible can be liable for a false imprisonment claim, a claim you probably wouldn’t think applied to this situation. But all a false imprisonment claim requires is intentionally confining someone within set parameters and the victim is conscious or harmed by the confinement. Again, I’m not going to go in depth into the meanings of all of those elements, but by putting the deer on the hood of that persons car the people who did so took away the owner of that car’s ability to leave Slippery Rock whenever he or she wanted.
The owner of that car couldn’t reasonably drive his or her car out of Slippery Rock with a dead deer on the hood. I know you might think that this is an unreasonable stretch for a false imprisonment claim, but false imprisonment has covered something as simple as taking someone’s shoes who was sleeping at a park because the victim wouldn’t reasonably walk through a park without shoes on. False imprisonment claims can be very pricey as well, a jury awarded a woman $20,000 for being falsely imprisoned by Walmart for only an hour.
The last potential claim I want to tell you all about that would apply in this situation is a trespass of chattel claim. For this claim, all a person has to do is intentionally physically interfere with the use and enjoyment of another’s personal property, and the owner of that property is harmed in some way. The harm can be something as simple as missing a meeting, or being deprived of the use of his or her property when he or she wants to use it. Like I said earlier, by putting the dead deer on the hood of the owners’ car, the ones who put it there are depriving the owner of the use and enjoyment of his or her car. Also, if the deer damages the car at all whoever put it there will be liable for those damages.
I wanted to write this to let everyone know exactly what you could be getting yourself into when you decide to pull a prank like this, and remember—I only talked about a few civil claims I didn’t even get into the possible criminal charges. I know these thoughts never crossed my mind when I would be walking back from the bar or a party, or just doing dumb things with my friends—but I feel like they’re important things to know and keep in mind. I wrote this hoping it will help people think about what they’re about to do before they do it, and it’ll make people be more careful.