There weren’t a lot of legal issues raised in the most recent Daredevil, so this will be a slightly short post, but there are a couple of points, including a nice detail about the tort defense of necessity. Spoilers inside!
In this issue, Matt Murdock takes a group of blind schoolchildren on a field trip. Or rather, he tries to: it turns out the lodge they were intending to stay at was double-booked (“they will hear from your lawyer,” Matt says) and the group has to return early. On the way back, the bus is caught up in a snow storm and an accident leaves the driver (the only sighted person on the trip) dead and the group stranded in the wilderness. Ultimately they find a house where they are able to warm up, eat, and call for help, although getting inside requires breaking a window. Matt remarks that he’ll pay for the window and the food and, apart from the deceased driver, everyone seems to do okay.
So this leaves us with two questions: did they have any legal recourse with regard to the double booking? And would paying for the food and window be enough?
I. Double Booking
(I just gotta say that it’s fun to talk about such an everyday legal issue like this one. It’s one of the things that makes reviewing Daredevil so interesting compared to other superhero books.)
The answer here depends a lot on facts we don’t have, but I think there’s a good chance Matt could have a claim. Matt says that he “booked that lodge months ago,” but he doesn’t say whether he prepaid or had a “guaranteed” reservation. While we couldn’t find any New York overbooking cases, prepayment and guarantees have been cited by other courts as important factors in whether overbooking can constitute a breach of contract or even a fraud. See, e.g., Onyx Acceptance Corp. v. Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts, Inc., 2008 WL 649024 at 13 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2008); Rainbow Travel Svc., Inc. v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 896 F.2d 1233 (10th Cir. 1990); also see Wells v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 522 F.Supp. 1023 (W.D.Mo. 1981) (no fraud but there was a breach of contract). So depending on the facts, Matt may indeed have a cause of action against the lodge.
It’s worth noting that the reason people don’t routinely sue hotels for overbooking is that the usual hotel policy is to pay to put the guest up at a similar nearby hotel. Ordinarily this severely limits or even eliminates any potential damages because the guest got, basically, what they paid for. In cases where staying at the specific hotel was important (e.g. for a wedding or other emotionally significant occasion), the plaintiff is out of luck because damages for emotional distress are almost never available in contract cases.
But in this case the kids were turned away entirely with no alternative lodging, so at the very least the lodge would be liable for the value of the stay. It would, however, be difficult to make the lodge liable for any of the injuries sustained during the trip, especially since the bus driver took a detour.
As one might expect, Murdock and the kids would likely not be criminally or civilly liable for saving their own lives even if it required trespassing, breaking and entering, and theft. The defense of necessity is not easy to prove, but a group of blind people facing otherwise certain death is a textbook example. But I wanted to mention that Matt isn’t just being nice when he mentions that he’ll repay the homeowners for the broken window and the food. While private necessity may excuse the use of the homeowners’ property, Matt is still liable for the damage. The point of the defense is that Matt isn’t liable for the trespass, and the homeowners could not have forced them back into the storm, if they had returned before help arrived.
Daredevil continues to be a great series under Waid and Rivera. Plus, it raises interesting legal issues that are a nice change of pace from the usual stuff we write about.