First off, this article is not what you think it is. In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with intellectual property, patents or business law. Rather, this is less of an article and more of a story: a funny story that I can laugh about now but while it was happening, I was a bit terrified. And perhaps this is a bit of commentary concerning our litigious society. So enjoy…
Back in the late eighties and early nineties long before becoming an attorney, I was a composite materials engineer with Martin Marietta. During my five year tenure at Martin, I had the opportunity to travel to San Diego several times including once to attend the annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) at the then new convention center. I was fortunate to have a room in the hotel right next to the convention center. The hotel is currently a Marriott but I don’t remember if it was a Marriot then. Here is a link
with pictures of the hotel. I was given a room near the top of the high rise with a very nice bay view.
Anyhow, one evening I came back to my room after the conference sessions had ended and decided to snap a few shots of the bay at sunset Since it was getting dark, I took a cheap inexpensive tripod I had packed onto the balcony with me to hold my camera steady for the long exposure shots. It was a bit nippy (around 55 degrees or so) but since I was going to be outside a mere 5 minutes or so I didn’t bother with a jacket.
I shot a few pictures, decided the lighting or composition wasn’t that interesting and decided to return to the warmth of my room rather than waste anymore film. I turned to open the sliding glass door and guess what, it wouldn’t open. It had become locked! I was locked out on the balcony at 150-200 feet above the ground! Ok, some of you are wondering why in hell I closed the door in the first place. Yeah, I was wondering that then as well as: I guess I was trying to conserve energy. And it seemed almost immediately after I couldn’t open the door that the temperature dropped another 5-10 degrees although that may have been me.
Apparently, the latch was loose and slid downwardly when I closed the door behind me. Anyhow, my frantic jiggling of the door probably only made the latch more secure. Why in hell do they need locks on balconies 15 or more stories above the ground anyway!
I looked over to the rooms to the left and right of me and they were dark. Perhaps their doors were unlocked but because of the way the balconies were recessed into the building’s exterior, there was no way to climb to them without risking a life-ending slip.
I looked below and saw a number of people milling about the entry to the hotel. “Help, Help, I am locked on the Balcony!” No one heard me! They just kept going about there business. The temperature seemed to drop even further and I thought I saw snow. People have told me since that it doesn’t snow in April (or ever) in San Diego but I swear I saw it.
Again, I looked at the neighboring rooms. Their lights were still out! What if those rooms were empty? There was a small gap between the edge of the balcony and the wall of the room where I peeped down at the room below me. Its light was also out!
As a rare once in a millennium April ice storm descended on San Diego, I was trapped on the balcony hundreds of feet above the ground. Could I last the night, I wondered. As I buttoned the top button on my polo shirt, it hit me: I could break the glass on the sliding glass door and gain entry to my room, warmth and safety. But the glass seemed rather thick and how could I break it. And if I did, would the hotel charge me for the damage. They shouldn’t I thought since the locking door was theirs. If I broke it, would shards of glass descend upon me? After all to break the thick seemingly bullet-proof glass, I would have to lie on my back and slam the bottoms of my shoes into the glass. The risk of a large piece of the pane falling downwardly at my legs and chopping them off seemed all too real. I decided to wait a little while longer.
And then I realized I was hungry too! I had not eaten dinner yet! The darkness enveloped me. As drifts of snow began to form next to where I was seated on the frozen concrete balcony floor, a beam of warm inviting light shot up from the room below indicating the source of my salvation. The occupants were home. Hallelujah! At first I yelled at them through the small gap between the balcony floor and the room wall but they did not hear. Perhaps, I was not to be rescued after all.
In harrowing and difficult circumstances, people have the ability to rise to an occasion to save themselves or those around them. An epiphany came to me at that moment as I hit bottom: take the tripod; stick it through the gap; and tap on the door below. I don’t know how I summoned the strength but I crawled over to a drift of snow and dug out the tripod from where it had been buried cutting my frost bitten hands on shards of ice. I lowered the tripod and I tapped it. I tapped it with every ounce of strength in my worn and ravaged body.
And the door opened. I was saved!
Very soon after, hotel personnel opened the sliding glass door and pulled me to safety. I was just glad to have survived those never ending 15 minutes exposed to the elements. Miraculously, The clouds outside blew away, the snow and sleet stopped and the air temperature warmed to about 60 degrees. Grateful, I thanked my rescuers and went out to a nice seafood dinner.
What made me recall this difficult and trying time that I had all but blocked from my memory? Recently, a person in Colorado filed suit against Home Depot for being glued to a toilet seat in the store’s bathroom and Home Depots employees did not respond quick enough. And what does this victim claim the waiting (about 15 minutes), the humiliation, and the suffering worth to him: 3 million dollars. Some commentators and media personnel have wondered whether the whole thing is a hoax. I just can’t figure out how one would become glued to foreign toilet seat in the first place. Who in their right mind sits on a toilet seat in a store restroom without looking first! Shouldn’t he have seen the glue? And given background as a materials engineer, I cannot think of an adhesive that would remain tacky for any period of time and then set immediately when coming into contact with an ass.
Anyhow, what if I had sued the hotel because the latch on the balcony door was defective? If a butt glued to a toilet seat is worth three million what would my experience be worth: 100 million or more. Instead of being a humble patent attorney writing this blog article, I could have been sunning on my personal south pacific island. But truth be told, I never considered suing. It didn’t even cross my mind until yesterday.
And to attorneys that wonder why our profession has such a bad reputation; I present to you as exhibit A the attorney representing the aforementioned Coloradan.