Can I Sue Spider-Man?

 
 
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Legal As She Is Spoke
As Peter Parker’s boss J. Jonah Jameson always says, just because you put on spandex and sport web shooters, doesn’t mean you get to break the law. But are there special loopholes for you once you choose capes and Batmobiles over your typical 9-to-5 and a 401k? Who foots the bill when a hero damages property while fighting a villain? Are mutants a protected class? Don’t worry, True Believer, lucky for us we have some heroes of our own to answer these difficult questions.
James Daily and Ryan Davidson, two attorneys and co-founders of the popular (why didn’t I think of that?) LawandtheMultiverse.com, are specialists in “Superhero law”. Sure, they may practice insurance and intellectual property law during the day, but much like Clark Kent and his alter ego, their true roles are much more “super.” I had the pleasure of attending their panel last Friday at New York Comic Con.
For the uninitiated among you: Comic Con is a big convention where kids who get picked on in school — or their adult versions who look back and laugh now that they make more money than their erstwhile tormentors – meet up to share thoughts about comics, hear some legends of the industry speak, and pick up a bunch of exciting news about movies, games, and books. When I was there, I witnessed firsthand a long line of fellow comic lovers and nerds of all varieties waited for the Daily-Davidson panel to begin:  a guy dressed as Deadpool flashing Batman underwear, another who devised his Superhero by wearing fast food packaging, and even a child roaming around in a makeshift tank. Quite a crew.
And then the fun and Q&A panel began. The first question came from a twenty-something male dressed an anime character, with long dyed hair and giant sword attached to his back. His question was about Doomsday, the creature that (who?) killed Superman: “Doomsday was artificially created about five years ago. Would he have to be tried in juvenile court for his crimes?”
Tough question.
But the specialists in superhero law were instantly ready with a solid answer.
Doomsday would most likely be legally found mentally incompetent, said our specialist, but the question of age will be an important one in real life if and when cloning becomes prevalent. Say for instance a clone has charges brought against him while in a body that has only been around a year or two, but with the memories of the original. The court, said Mr. Davidson, will most likely look at the being’s mental age as opposed to its physical age. The question of legal responsibility would then turn to whether or not a clone or artificial life form is a “person” as our law defines it.
This factors that constitute a bona fide “person” came up again in a following question, asked by one of several brightly clad, Jokers in the room. Can we deport superheroes from other planets back to their home worlds? Mr. Daily coolly explained that since we probably don’t have technology of the magnitude needed for space deportation, no, we wouldn’t be deporting anyone back to their planets. Just when I was wrapping my mind around the seriousness with which he answered the question, he added: “What is the legal status of extraterrestrial aliens? Are they subject to the laws of humans at all?” Whoa. Food for thought.
Interestingly, according to Mr. Daily, if you beat up Superman you would much more likely be charged with animal abuse than assault. In February, a California court had the opportunity to grant legal protection to a species of whale by declaring these intelligent mammals “people.” The court declined, and said that any such classification was up to the legislature. So until we have Congress calling extraterrestrials “people,” our law would most likely consider Superman an animal. Mr. Davidson then quipped that in fact, Superman would most likely be deemed to be an endangered species.  After all, he hailed from Krypton, which no longer exists, making it a real serious crime to attack him. Watch out, Lex.
Next up stood a woman dressed in a Fiona costume from the show “Adventure Time.” [Which I totally had to look up. I mean, I would never watch something like that. It’s for kids…*cough*] She asked, “Are Superheroes subject to good Samaritan laws? If Seinfeld can go to jail for it, I assume Captain America can as well.” Mr. Daily offered a quick review of what these laws actually do or require for those unfamiliar in the audience. I’ll briefly do the same here:
States’ Good Samaritan laws (for example: New York’s law is found under N.Y. Public Health 3013) say that if you come across somebody who needs help and you try to help them, and you accidentally worsen the situation, you’re protected from suits from the person you were trying to help. That is, unless you do something really dumb like trying to treat a broken finger by amputating it. There are only about ten states with an actual affirmative duty to rescue, and most states want to give you some form of statutory protection to encourage you to try. Because of that, as long as the hero doesn’t use extreme or unnecessary force, he should probably be fine. (And we all know Superheroes never use extreme or unnecessary force…)
The questions came fast and furious, with curious minds wanting to know everything from whether the Daily Bugle could be sued by Spiderman for slander to whether Ant-man would legally qualify as a midget while using his powers. The dynamic duo of Messrs. Dailey and Davidson were never stumped were informative and entertaining throughout.
The final question of the day came from a teenager dressed like he hated keeping his lunch money past first period. He asked, “Would Bruce Banner be liable for The Hulk’s damage?” Mr. Davidson answered with the speed of someone who has been asked this before… a lot. He explained that mental state is always important for both criminal and civil liability. But when it comes to The Hulk’s mental state, things can get tricky. Are we dealing with the mindless Hulks from the early comics, when Banner had no control over Hulk’s actions or transformation? Or are we dealing with the current one that has Banner in complete control at all times?
If Bruce Banner is “with it” and knows he is changing into Hulk, then he is liable for that change and the court will not treat them as two different people. Mr. Daily explained that it would compare perfectly with an epileptic. If someone with epilepsy gets behind a wheel, but she didn’t know she had epilepsy, she wouldn’t be liable if she seizure behind a wheel. But if she knew she had the disease, then she would be liable if something happened the same way Bruce Banner would be if the Hulk wrecked half of downtown Manhattan.
So there you have it, folks. For generations, geeky kids have been firing these kinds of questions back and forth at each other with nobody to offer definitive answers. And lucky for us, we now have two guys taking the time to figure it all out. If you, like me, can name the origin story behind most comic characters, then I highly recommend you check out their blog which, like LASIS, was named a “100 best blawg” in 2011 by the American Bar Association.
 
-Ryan Morrison, Video Game Attorney