The Hokey Gokey

On December 31, 2007, Curtis Gokey of Lodi, California, ran into a little bit of bad luck. A municipal worker was reversing a city-owned dump truck but found himself distracted by the dispatchers. The driver stopped a moment too late, crunching Gokey’s 1994 Chevy 4×4. It was the driver’s first accident in 20 years, but as far as Gokey was concerned, that didn’t undo the problem. Gokey’s car suffered over $3,600 in damages — damages which were clearly the fault of the city employee. But when Gokey went to the city to ask for reimbursement — something which, in every other case with similar facts happened as a matter of course — the city said no.


Because Gokey was the city employee driving the dump truck. He hit his own automobile.

The city argued that Gokey wasn’t entitled to collect because he actually caused the damage to his own car. The city’s attorney called Gokey’s claim “ridiculous,” telling the local press that “this is just one of those things where you go, no, the citizens of Lodi are not going to pay for his error. If we’re going to pay him, a judge is going to have to tell us to pay him.” Gokey argued that the fact that he hit his own car was immaterial: “I’m a city employee on city time, on city property. What does it matter what vehicle I hit? An accident’s an accident. If it had been my co-worker, they would have paid.” Neither side alleged that Gokey hit his truck intentionally, either.

Nevertheless, the judge agreed with the city, dismissing Gokey’s claim. But the driver wasn’t done yet. His wife, Rhonda, filed suit, asking for $4,800 — 33% more than what her husband demanded. (She jokingly told the Associated Press that she’s “not as nice as [her] husband is” but, in reality, was also trying to recoup the money spent on acquiring a replacement vehicle while the Chevy was in the shop.) It’s not as outlandish as you’d think — spouses often can sue each other to recoup money from their (often jointly-held) insurance companies — but it was still pretty far out there.

The city attorney asserted that her claim was also without merit, and according to one legal blog which followed the case, the city, again, prevailed.

Bonus Fact: In 1997, three Yemenite men sued NASA alleging that the American space agency had trespassed on their property. The property? Mars. The Yemenites believed they had inherited the fourth planet from the Sun from their ancestors, 3,000 years ago.

From the ArchivesFogerty versus Fogerty: Everyone is suing themselves.

RelatedA certificate saying you own a piece of the moon. A cute novelty item, almost certainly not enforceable. In case you were wondering.