Patterico's Pontifications

2/23/2010

Austin Family Sues Joe Stack’s Wife

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 9:59 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

The family of Vernon Hunter, the IRS worker killed when Andrew Joseph Stack III crashed his plane into Austin’s IRS offices, has sued Stack’s wife. The family claims Mrs. Stack failed to warn others about her husband:

“According to the seven-page lawsuit filed in state District Court in Travis County, Sheryl Mann Stack had a duty to “avoid a foreseeable risk of injury to others,” including 68-year-old Vernon Hunter, who was killed Thursday.

“Stack was threatened enough by Joseph Stack that she took her daughter and stayed at a hotel the night before the plane crash,” the suit said.

Sheryl Stack has declined to comment on the incident, other than a written statement that said she was grief-stricken.”

The lawsuit reportedly also claims Stack was negligent in failing to maintain a proper height. I assume the plaintiffs are suing Stack’s estate regarding this claim.

Hunter’s attorney says he and his clients are interested in whether Mrs. Stack is eligible to receive insurance proceeds (if any) as a result of Stack’s death. I’m not sure whether a plaintiff could reach the spouse’s life insurance proceeds in the event of a judgment against Stack’s estate, but I assume the funds would be subject to any judgment obtained against Mrs. Stack.

— DRJ

52 Responses to “Austin Family Sues Joe Stack’s Wife”

  1. That’s sad to do that to a widow I think.

    And tacky.

    happyfeet (713679)

  2. In a statement, Hunter’s relatives said their thoughts also are with Stack’s family.

    “We are not angry at them because they did not do this,” the statement said. “We forgive Joe for his actions, which took Vern’s ‘pound of flesh’ with him.”*

    whatever

    happyfeet (713679)

  3. Tort law sucks

    JD (8b3caf)

  4. This is idiotic. No way it sticks.

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  5. This sounds like something an IRS agent would do: Sue an abused woman who just lost her husband and now has to raise her son by herself.

    And then they complain that nobody likes or respects them.

    Socratease (19a6f5)

  6. One could also argue that the IRS also had a duty to warn its employees of Joseph Stack’s duress and possible ramifications that may result.

    Maybe Mrs. Stack even has a case against the estate of Vernon Hunter, I mean since failure to mind-read is now a libel offense.

    Pons Asinorum (95faa4)

  7. I was thinking about life insurance proceeds when I wrote this post, but maybe the Hunter plaintiffs want to recover under Stack’s plane insurance, assuming he had any. I don’t know how aircraft policies work but they might have a viable claim if the policies are similar to automobile insurance policies.

    DRJ (6a8003)

  8. This sounds like something an IRS agent would do:

    First, the son, far as I know, is not an IRS agent.

    Second, Vernon Hunter’s family lost a loved one, too, and unlike Stack, their loved one was innocent.

    Third, all parties are grieving and are bound to exhibit some wrong-headedness. Like when Stack’s daughter called her nut of a father a hero for killing someone. She later retracted her statement after Ken Hunter complained.

    Fourth, Vernon Hunter was more than an IRS agent, not that there’s anything dishonorable in that. He was a father, grandfather and a war veteran who served his country at a time when he himself was refused service at many restaurants solely due to his skin color.

    Fifth, the lawsuit probably has no chance. But I’m not going to judge how a family deals with its grief. Maybe they’re being twisted by an opportunistic lawyer. Who knows? But it’s their cross to bear, their pain to deal with.

    Myron (998393)

  9. It looks like Joe Stack’s aviation insurance is on the hook (I mean it does not get more negligent than “on purpose”), but Mrs. Stack? I don’t understand how that can even be possible from a rational and moral POV.

    Pons Asinorum (95faa4)

  10. but Mrs. Stack? I don’t understand how that can even be possible from a rational and moral POV.

    Me neither. I just don’t see how she could be legally responsible in any way. If she is found responsible, that opens up a whole can of worms where legally, families would be considered a collective — each responsible for anything another family member might do. It could make families who just happen to have a mentally ill relative particularly vulnerable, which is discriminatory on its face.

    Myron (998393)

  11. Austin family is idiots. I’m sorry they lost a loved one because of another idiot. But they’ve chosen to be idiots themselves. And they’ve chosen to walk up to be laughing-stocks. Stick their heads and arms in the laughing-stocks and let them get the rotten vegetables thrown at them that they deserve.

    Idiots looking for ways to hate and harm others. They aren’t much better than Joe Stack himself. Quit hating the wife of an insane idiot. Quit adding to the torture she already has. And quit looking for an easy buck.

    John Hitchcock (0f657a)

  12. Ummm … is this suit not a fairly classic demonstration of why the US needs something along the lines of “Loser pays” ???

    Then, predatory lawyers would find it harder to take advantage of a grieving family (if that applies here), and a grieving family will be way less likely to do something like this (if they came up with the idea themselves) …

    Alasdair (205079)

  13. John

    dont sugarcoat – let it all out

    EricPWJohnson (0e8f14)

  14. However

    Flying ones plane into someone’s husband on purpose can lead to legal action

    EricPWJohnson (0e8f14)

  15. EPWJ, first off, follow the link I provided. Second off, don’t sue a second person for a first person’s actions. Idiot.

    In fact, everyone who wants to say anything against what I said, follow the link I provided first. Or be an idiot.

    John Hitchcock (0f657a)

  16. You should know better, EPWJ, since you commented on that link already.

    John Hitchcock (0f657a)

  17. families would be considered a collective

    We are all part of the collective…

    AD - RtR/OS! (af3002)

  18. John,

    Relax Francis…

    EricPWJohnson (919934)

  19. John,

    I’m sorry I didnt see the link – still am not seeing the link

    I think the co ownership of property and the fact they are married and in constant daily communication – (not that I agree with it at all) – could be grounds for a lawsuit –

    EricPWJohnson (919934)

  20. Once again they demonstrate why someone would want to fly a plane into their building. The Austins should get a job with the IRS. Two wrongs dont make a right.

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    Nigerian Observer (037483)

  21. Pons Asinorum wrote:

    but Mrs. Stack? I don’t understand how that can even be possible from a rational and moral POV.

    Mr Asinorum, you’re talking about the law, not a rational or moral point of view.

    If this kind of idiocy succeeds, will we see the parents of the Columbine killers sued?

    The realistic Dana (3e4784)

  22. Pons – I doubt the aircraft coverage will be on the hook, as most liability policies specifically exclude intentional acts.

    JD (21ab8e)

  23. There is no freaking way in he11 this should be allowed. I don’t care what the current laws say. This is freaking crazy. Our justice system can’t allow for this. Yes, I know many of you practice law. The profession is tainted. It is the only closed system where the same group creates, advocates, and ultimately judges itself. It is crap!

    Corwin (ea9428)

  24. Jury trial. You have a widow, an orphan. Should be interesting if it ever gets to a jury.

    cedarhill (6c4d1b)

  25. Corwin, although I don’t practice in Texas, few of us believe that the lawsuit states a valid cause of action against the wife.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  26. Dana, my recollection is that they were sued.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  27. From Joe Stack’s rant, it seemed he had to money, so the only person getting any proceeds here are the lawyers.

    Neo (7830e6)

  28. Second, Vernon Hunter’s family lost a loved one, too, and unlike Stack, their loved one was innocent.

    And Stack’s wife isn’t ?

    Good grief !

    Besides, I had read the plane was stolen. Is that not true ?

    Mike K (2cf494)

  29. Tragedies are tragedies, and in this one there are two widows and several orphans.

    IF: There is a huge amount of money coming to Stack’s family from insurance of some type
    AND: The Hunter family does not have decent life insurance to provide for them
    THEN: I understand the reasonableness of a request from the Hunter family
    BUT: This is a crappy way of doing it. Had Mrs. Hunter approached someone or some agency that does mediation of disputes to inquire, and not this week, I think that would have merit as an appropriate request, but not necessarily based on any legal requirement.

    What are the odds that some lawyer sought out Hunter’s widow and talked her into this?
    This is simply an episode of lawsuit as lottery winning when you can (try) to find big pockets.

    There was a movie back in the 80’s (I forget the name, I think Sally Field was in it) where the town’s sheriff was shot and killed (foolishly but accidently) and the perpetrator lynched. It ended up with both widows becoming each others support and friends out of necessity/ circumstance. There were no lawyers involved

    MD in Philly (d30b11)

  30. But I’m not going to judge how a family deals with its grief. Maybe they’re being twisted by an opportunistic lawyer. Who knows? But it’s their cross to bear, their pain to deal with.

    Except they’re trying to make someone else bear it, aren’t they?

    Look, I’m sorry for the Hunter family. But life isn’t fair, and the reason it’s called a tragedy is that it has an unhappy ending. Piling their burdens on top of someone else’s who already has plenty isn’t making anyone except the lawyers happy. And it isn’t exactly building a shining legacy by which to remember Vernon Hunter, either.

    Socratease (19a6f5)

  31. Ummm … is this suit not a fairly classic demonstration of why the US needs something along the lines of “Loser pays” ???

    It most certainly is – one valuable feature that the Brits have always practiced in their courts, if memory serves. But the trial lawyers have both parties by the throats via their lobbying dollars, so forget about it. When even Howard Dean (!) admitted during one of the health care townhall debates last summer that the Dems won’t (or cannot) do anything about tort reform because of the power of the trial lawyer lobby, then you know it’ll never happen.

    Dmac (799abd)

  32. While there’s certainly room to argue this on both sides, a few of the comments seem overblown here.

    In the first place, Texas is a community property state. That is not some new, novel law. “Collective” is rather a harsh term for it. As a general rule, both the earnings and the debts of each spouse are community property, with each spouse enjoying the benefit of the joint income and each spouse being liable for the joint debts. If, for example, Joe Stack had been wealthy, and had say $1 million in a savings account when he killed himself along with his victims, that $1 million legally belonged jointly to both him and his wife. The entirety of that $1 million is subject to any claims for any joint debt owed by the community. At the very least, his half of that $1 million is subject to any debts owed by him, even debts that are not part of the community.

    In such a scenario, why should Joe Stack’s money not go to compensate his victims? If Stack had survived, nobody would have a problem suing him and taking every last penny from him. Why should the rule be any different simply because he’s dead?

    Having said all that, however, I must also point out that, alas, that does not appear to be the legal theory relied upon by the plaintiffs. The claim that the wife herself had some legal duty to warn others of her husband’s dangerousness is definitely out there and should not be allowed. Had they alleged liability of the wife only to the extent that she was the co-owner of the community property with Joe Stack, that’s when my analysis above would apply.

    PatHMV (c0c73a)

  33. IF: There is a huge amount of money coming to Stack’s family from insurance of some type

    That’s a rather large if. Insurance companies don’t pay out on arson, suicides or other self-inflicted losses. Maybe something else will provide a pay out, but I’m not sure what those might be.

    I R A Darth Aggie (9e9ecf)

  34. “Corwin, although I don’t practice in Texas, few of us believe that the lawsuit states a valid cause of action against the wife.”

    My point would be something like this should be tossed out at filing. I realize different states have different laws and in Texas, her husband’s debts, etc. become hers. Or were already hers, yada yada yada.

    Might as well sue the poor sap that fueled up his plane, the guy that helped build the runway, the architect that designed the building that couldn’t withstand an airstrike, the instructor that gave Joe Stack flying lessons, the lawyer who wrote the law that tipped Joe over the edge; where does the insanity stop?

    Mrs. Stack will spend money on a lawyer for a defense. The justice system will spend money hearing arguments, etc., the Hunter family will spend money on a lawyer. It’s a freakin’ mess. And who benefits?

    (/rant)

    I think our whole justice system is so over-law’d (<== is that a word?) It makes me sick to think how much money and energy we waste on things like this. (yes, I just added another few minutes of my time to the equation.)

    Corwin (ea9428)

  35. First rule of lawsuits (courtesy of ‘Bloom County’): Never sue people who don’t have money.

    JEA (dffa7e)

  36. Actually, the suicide exclusion is two years from policy issuance. After that, you’re free to eat your pistol and the policy will pay out.

    Also, life insurance payments to a named beneficiary are tax-free, and protected to some extent from attachment – but there are exceptions to the non-attachment clause that I’m not competent to address. It’s entirely possible that this situation would be one of them.

    Phil Smith (1cf25d)

  37. No lawyer would take the case for the Hunters, if they didn’t think they could get some money/publicity out of it. This lawyer is the primary beneficiary, even if the suit is dropped.

    TimesDisliker (bdeac4)

  38. (#20 The realistic Dana) Mr Asinorum, you’re talking about the law, not a rational or moral point of view.

    Completely agree Mr. Dana, but I am still hoping there is some remnant of a rational, moral code left in the Law. The idea that Mrs. Stack bears responsibility for the murder of Mr. Hunter…like you, I’m not seeing it.

    I would hope the lawyer responsible for thinking “yeah, great idea” is somehow rebuked (not holding my breath on that one, though).

    Heh, in this particular case, why not sue Mrs. Stack’s second cousin once removed, she might have had a suspicion? If the mailman heard something then he could be liable…and his wife…and her brother…and his mom…(and all the people Corwin @33 pointed out…and their relatives…)

    Pons Asinorum (95faa4)

  39. Steven

    > This is idiotic. No way it sticks.

    I think only the first sentence is true, sadly.

    Look, this is not about money, but about anger. Its understandable from a human angle, but frankly the lawyer should have been a grown up and put the kybosh on it. but of course expecting lawyers to be grown ups might be a tad unrealistic.

    Alasdair

    > Ummm … is this suit not a fairly classic demonstration of why the US needs something along the lines of “Loser pays” ???

    Damn, I just broke my neck nodding in agreement. I have been saying it for years.

    A.W. (e7d72e)

  40. (@21 JD) Pons – I doubt the aircraft coverage will be on the hook, as most liability policies specifically exclude intentional acts.

    Thanks JD — I forgot that.

    Pons Asinorum (95faa4)

  41. (@27 Mike K) Besides, I had read the plane was stolen. Is that not true?

    Not a 100% sure Mike, but Joseph Stack is listed as the registered owner according to this FAA website.

    (his aircraft registration number or “N” number is N2889D)

    Pons Asinorum (95faa4)

  42. Btw, insurance generally doesn’t cover intentional acts by the insured against the insured item/person. Most life insurance policies don’t apply to suicide. most fire insurance doesn’t include deliberate arson by the owner. i would be surprised if his plane insurance covered intentionally destroying the plane.

    But i will note that everyone is forgetting that the man burnt his house down, too.

    A.W. (e7d72e)

  43. […] Attempted Murder Of IRS Agents; Update – MSM Blames Tea Party Patterico’s Pontifications: Austin Family Sues Joe Stack’s Wife and Casualties and the Austin Plane Attack and Joe Stack Was a Terrorist and Plane Crashes Into […]

    Sad: Samantha Bell: My Dad Joe Stack Is a Hero for His Anti-Government Plane Crash (video) – Update: Vernon Hunter, Vietnam Vet, Identified as Fatal Victim in IRS Building « Frugal Café Blog Zone (a66042)

  44. I am not a lawyer but is this whole suit not based on holding someone liable for the criminal acts of someone else? Arson is a criminal act, and intentionally flying your plane into the IRS building is a criminal act. I don’t see how his wife would be liable in any way. It would be like the Goldman family suing OJ’s kids or his mother, or sister.

    PRM (310ebf)

  45. Okay, I hate to be a pedant, but the suicide exclusion is only for two years. See, for example, what the Texas Department of Insurance has to say on the topic. Scroll down to the “contestable period”. Short answer is, after two years, they will pay the life insurance benefit. For that matter, some states mandate that it’s only for one.

    TDI also outlines (very roughly) the attachability of life insurance proceeds:

    Unless a statutory exemption, such as fraud, is applicable, the cash value and death benefit of a life insurance policy is fully exempt from

    * creditors
    * all demands in any bankruptcy proceeding
    * execution, attachment, garnishment, or other legal processes.

    I have no idea if crashing your plane into a building is statutorily exempt or not.

    I’ll shut up now.

    Phil Smith (1cf25d)

  46. Phil

    I’m not doubting you, but if true, that is retarded. i mean so all i have to do is convince myself life is worth it for two years?

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    A.W. (e7d72e)

  47. Whereas it is truly sad that Mr. Hunter was in the wrong place at the wrong time, don’t you think it’s a little too early for an ambulace chasing, lawyer to step in so publicly? Sure, contact the family but you might want to wait until the hole stops smoldering. It is these types that cause us to question lawyer’s legitimacy.

    PatriotRider (1729de)

  48. so all i have to do is convince myself life is worth it for two years?

    Pretty much. I’ve always figured that if someone’s life is miserable enough that they are seriously contemplating suicide, holding out for two years is probably a stretch. Think about it: “I hate my life and I want to die. But first, I’m going to buy a life insurance policy for the people I’m leaving behind, and then I’m going to wait two years.” No matter what theory you subscribe to as to why someone would commit suicide, this course of events really doesn’t fit.
    Cry for help? Probably can’t wait.
    Punishing the survivors? Leave them without the money.
    Honestly and truly can’t take it anymore? Obviously not going to wait two years.

    Phil Smith (1cf25d)

  49. Harrisburg, PA – Records at a Pennsylvania college match a man that authorities say piloted his airplane into a Texas office building over a federal tax dispute.

    Harrisburg Area Community College spokesman Patrick Early says engineering student Andrew J. Stack III collected nearly 60 credits at the school from 1975 to 1977 but left without getting a degree.

    Early says Stack’s last address on file was in Corona, Calif., in 1999. His month and year of birth match other records for Joseph Stack, believed to be the pilot in Thursday’s crash in Austin, Texas.

    A spokeswoman for Milton Hershey School in Hershey says Andrew Joseph Stack III graduated from the school in 1974

    Neo (7830e6)

  50. A.W. #39 – great, just great ! Now *my* spouse has to be worried about being sued by *your* spouse for Loss of Consortium !

    OY !

    Alasdair (205079)

  51. People have to be careful these Day of their action especially to pass judgment. I believe God gives a purpose of living and helping others not taking a life. Regardless of what we going through,We need to be careful of what we say as wellof what we do .the children of this earth are looking at our action and listening to Our Words and belive It are not it will comeback to hunt us.

    Word (c68c91)

  52. You’ve got to be kidding me. you can get a life insurance payment for a suicide if you’ve been ‘vested’ in for 2 years? Is this because of the idea that depression is a disease (which it is)?

    Word, I think you’re right, but it’s just beyond me not to just Stack’s amazing selfishness and hatred as coming from a truly bad person.

    I wonder if this suit is one of those where the defendant pays just to make the mess go away faster. Unless Ms Stack knew what was up, she’s got my sympathies just as much as Ms Hunter.

    Dustin (b54cdc)


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