Could Occupy Wall Street protesters be sued for Black Friday tactic?
Some Occupy Wall Street protesters have talked of staging sit-ins at big retail stories on Black Friday. One prominent lawyer suggests that could backfire, legally.
If cities and universities really want to get tough with illegal actions by Occupy Wall Street protesters they have another tool at their disposal other than evictions and pepper spray.Skip to next paragraph
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They can also bring lawsuits seeking damages, says John Banzhaf, a legal expert who teaches a class called “Torts R Us.”
Yes, Occupy protesters contemplating illegally squatting in “publicly traded” stores such as Neiman Marcus and Wal-Mart on Black Friday, might want to check to see if the stores are litigious before sitting down in front of a pallet of children’s toys. If the store owner is so inclined, lawsuits seeking damages could be in order.
Yes, a lawsuit seeking thousands of dollars could be filed, says Mr. Banzhaf, who has been called “a legal flamethrower” and teaches at George Washington University Law School.
“It could be a deterrent,” he says. “No one wants to have a huge judgment hanging over one’s head, you can be asked embarrassing questions in court – no one wants to go through that.”
He says the lawsuits can be aimed at a group, if they are organized, or even an individual who can be sued for the total amount of damages. If the damages are intentional, he says, a court could impose punitive damages as well. “Punitive damages are usually more than ordinary damages and that would act like a deterrent as well,” he says.
Banzhaf says he doesn’t know of any lawsuits brought against protesters so far, but he thinks they could eventually happen.
“It will only take one lawyer who gets stuck in an illegal demonstration and suffers a business loss,” says Banzhaf. “Or, perhaps some people can’t get into an office because protesters are blocking the way [and] decide they want to do something about it.”
Banzhaf, who says he is a big proponent of First Amendment rights, says the lawsuits would only deal with illegal activities. “At a university, you have a right to sit-in, to write, to walk around – but not to block people from coming into classrooms.”