Coyote V. Acme

Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, Feb. 26, 1990.


Wile E. Coyote, Plaintiff
Acme Company, De­fen­dant

Opening State­ment of Mr. Harold Schoff, at­tor­ney for Mr. Coyote: My client, Mr. Wile E. Coyote, a res­i­dent of Arizona and con­tigu­ous states, does hereby bring suit for damages against the Acme Company, man­u­fac­turer and retail dis­trib­u­tor of as­sorted merchandise, in­cor­po­rated in Delaware and doing busi­ness in every state, district, and territory. Mr. Coyote seeks com­pen­sa­tion for per­sonal injuries, loss of busi­ness income, and mental suf­fer­ing causes as a direct result of the actions and/or gross neg­li­gence of said company, under Title 15 of the United States Code, Chapter 47, section 2072, sub­sec­tion (a), re­lat­ing to product liability.

Mr. Coyote states that on eighty-five sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions he has pur­chased of the Acme Company (hereinafter, “Defendant”), through that company’s mail-order department, certain prod­ucts which did cause him bodily injury due to defects in man­u­fac­ture or im­proper cau­tion­ary labelling. Sales slips made out to Mr. Coyote as proof of pur­chase are at present in the pos­ses­sion of the Court, marked Exhibit A. Such in­juries sus­tained by Mr. Coyote have tem­porar­ily re­stricted his ability to make a living in his pro­fes­sion of predator. Mr. Coyote is self-employed and thus not el­i­gi­ble for Workmen’s Compensation.

Mr. Coyote states that on De­cem­ber 13th he re­ceived of De­fen­dant via parcel post one Acme Rocket Sled. The in­ten­tion of Mr. Coyote was to use the Rocket Sled to aid him in pursuit of his prey. Upon receipt of the Rocket Sled Mr. Coyote removed it from its wooden ship­ping crate and, sight­ing his prey in the distance, ac­ti­vated the ignition. As Mr. Coyote gripped the handlebars, the Rocket Sled ac­cel­er­ated with such sudden and pre­cip­i­tate force as to stretch Mr. Coyote’s fore­limbs to a length of fifty feet. Subsequently, the rest of Mr. Coyote’s body shot forward with a violent jolt, causing severe strain to his back and neck and placing him un­ex­pect­edly astride the Rocket Sled. Dis­ap­pear­ing over the horizon at such speed as to leave a di­min­ish­ing jet trail along its path, the Rocket Sled soon brought Mr. Coyote abreast of his prey. At that moment the animal he was pur­su­ing veered sharply to the right. Mr. Coyote vig­or­ously at­tempted to follow this ma­neu­ver but was unable to, due to poorly de­signed steer­ing on the Rocket Sled and a faulty or nonex­is­tent braking system. Shortly thereafter, the unchecked progress of the Rocket Sled brought it and Mr. Coyote into col­li­sion with the side of a mesa.

Para­graph One of the Report of At­tend­ing Physi­cian (Exhibit B), pre­pared by Dr. Ernest Grosscup, M.D., D.O., details the mul­ti­ple fractures, contusions, and tissue damage suf­fered by Mr. Coyote as a result of this collision. Repair of the in­juries re­quired a full bandage around the head (excluding the ears), a neck brace, and full or partial casts of all four legs.

Ham­pered by these injuries, Mr. Coyote was nev­er­the­less obliged to support himself. With this in mind, he pur­chased of De­fen­dant as an aid to mo­bil­ity one pair of Acme Rocket Skates. When he at­tempted to use this product, however, he became in­volved in an ac­ci­dent re­mark­ably similar to that which oc­curred with the Rocket Sled. Again, De­fen­dant sold over the counter, without caveat, a product which at­tached pow­er­ful jet engines (in this case, two) to in­ad­e­quate vehicles, with little or no pro­vi­sion for pas­sen­ger safety. En­cum­bered by his heavy casts, Mr. Coyote lost control of the Rocket Skates soon after strap­ping them on, and col­lided with a road­side bill­board so vi­o­lently as to leave a hole in the shape of his full silhouette.

Mr. Coyote states that on oc­ca­sions too nu­mer­ous to list in this doc­u­ment he has suf­fered mishaps with ex­plo­sives pur­chased of Defendant: the Acme “Little Giant” Firecracker, the Acme Self-Guided Aerial Bomb, etc. (For a full listing, see the Acme Mail Order Ex­plo­sives Cat­a­logue and at­tached deposition, entered in ev­i­dence as Exhibit C.) Indeed, it is safe to say that not once has an ex­plo­sive pur­chased of De­fen­dant by Mr. Coyote per­formed in an ex­pected manner. To cite just one example: At the expense of much time and per­sonal effort, Mr. Coyote con­structed around the outer rim of a butte a wooden trough be­gin­ning at the top of the butte and spi­ralling down­ward around it to some few feet above a black X painted on the desert floor. The trough was de­signed in such a way that a spher­i­cal ex­plo­sive of the type sold by De­fen­dant would roll easily and swiftly down to the point of det­o­na­tion in­di­cated by the X. Mr. Coyote placed a gen­er­ous pile of bird­seed di­rectly on the X, and then, car­ry­ing the spher­i­cal Acme Bomb (Catalog #78-832), climbed to the top of the butte. Mr. Coyote’s prey, seeing the birdseed, approached, and Mr. Coyote pro­ceeded to light the fuse. In an instant, the fuse burned down to the stem, causing the bomb to detonate.

In ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing all Mr. Coyote’s careful prepa­ra­tions to naught, the pre­ma­ture det­o­na­tion of Defendant’s product re­sulted in the fol­low­ing dis­fig­ure­ments to Mr. Coyote:

  1. Severe singe­ing of the hair on the head, neck, and muzzle.
  2. Sooty discoloration.
  3. Frac­ture of the left ear at the stem, causing the ear to dangle in the af­ter­shock with a creak­ing noise.
  4. Full or partial com­bus­tion of whiskers, pro­duc­ing kinking, frazzling, and ashy disintegration.
  5. Radical widen­ing of the eyes, due to brow and lid charring.

We now come to the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes. The remains of a pair of these pur­chased by Mr. Coyote on June 23rd are Plaintiff’s Exhibit D. Se­lected frag­ments have been shipped to the met­al­lur­gi­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Santa Barbara for analysis, but to date no ex­pla­na­tion has been found for this product’s sudden and extreme malfunciton. As ad­ver­tised by Defendant, this product is sim­plic­ity itself: two wood-and-metal sandals, each at­tached to milled-steel springs of high tensile strength and com­pressed in a tightly coiled po­si­tion by a cocking device with a lanyard release. Mr. Coyote be­lieved that this product would enable him to pounce upon his prey in the initial moments of his chase, when swift re­flexes are at a premium.

To in­crease the shoes’ thrust­ing power still further, Mr. Coyote affixed them by their bottoms to the side of a large boulder. Ad­ja­cent to the boulder was a path which Mr. Coyote’s prey was known to frequent. Mr. Coyote put his hind feet in the wood-and-metal sandals and crouched in readiness, his right forepaw holding firmly to the lanyard release. Within a short time Mr. Coyote’s prey did indeed appear on the path coming toward him. Unsuspecting, the prey stopped near Mr. Coyote, well within range of the springs at full extension. Mr. Coyote gauged the dis­tance with care and pro­ceeded to pull the lanyard release.

At this point, Defendant’s product should have thrust Mr. Coyote forward and away from the boulder. Instead, for reasons yet unknown, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes thrust the boulder away from Mr. Coyote. As the in­tended prey looked on unharmed, Mr. Coyote hung sus­pended in air. Then the twin springs recoiled, bring­ing Mr. Coyote to a violent feet-first col­li­sion with the boulder, the full weight of his head and fore­quar­ters falling upon his lower extremities.

The force of this impact then caused the springs to rebound, where­upon Mr. Coyote was thrust skyward. A second recoil and col­li­sion followed. The boulder, meanwhile, which was roughtly ovoid in shape, had begun to bounce down a hillside, the coiling and re­coil­ing of the springs adding to its velocity. At each bounce, Mr. Coyote came into contact with the boulder, or the boulder came into contact with Mr. Coyote, or both came into contact with the ground. As the grade was a long one, this process con­tin­ued for some time.

The se­quence of col­li­sions re­sulted in sys­temic phys­i­cal damage to Mr. Coyote, viz., flat­ten­ing of the cranium, side­ways dis­place­ment of the tongue, re­duc­tion of length of legs and upper body, and com­pres­sion of ver­te­brae from base of tail to head. Rep­e­ti­tion of blows along a ver­ti­cal axis pro­duced a series of regular hor­i­zon­tal folds in Mr. Coyote’s body tissues—a rare and painful con­di­tion which caused Mr. Coyote to expand upward and con­tract down­ward al­ter­nately as he walked, and to emit an off-key, ac­cor­dion­like wheez­ing with every step. The dis­tract­ing and em­barass­ing nature of this symptom has been a major im­ped­i­ment to Mr. Coyote’s pursuit of a normal social life.

As the Court is no doubt aware, De­fen­dant has a virtual mo­nop­oly of man­u­fac­ture and sale of goods re­quired by Mr. Coyote’s work. It is our con­tention that De­fen­dant has used its market ad­van­tage to the detri­ment of the con­sumer of such spe­cial­ized prod­ucts as itching powder, giant kites, Burmese tiger traps, anvils, and two-hundred-foot-long rubber bands. Much as he has come to mis­trust Defendant’s products, Mr. Coyote has no other do­mes­tic source of supply to which to turn. One can only wonder what our trading part­ners in Western Europe and Japan would make of such a situation, where a giant company is allowed to vic­tim­ize the con­sumer in the most reck­less and wrong­ful manner over and over again.

Mr. Coyote re­spect­fully re­quests that the Court regard these larger eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions and assess puni­tive damages in the amount of sev­en­teen million dollars. In addition, Mr. Coyote seeks actual damages (missed meals, medical expenses, days lost from pro­fes­sional occupation) of one million dollars; general damages (mental suffering, injury to reputation) of twenty million dollars; and attorney’s fees of seven hundred and fifty thou­sand dollars. Total damages: thirty-eight million seven hundred and fifty thou­sand dollars. By award­ing Mr. Coyote the full amount, this Court will censure Defendant, its directory, officers, shareholders, successors, and assigns, in the only lan­guage they understand, and reaf­firm the right of the in­di­vid­ual preda­tor to equal pro­tec­tion under the law.