The real story about the aunt who sued her nephew

“Everybody was saying stuff that they didn’t know.”

That right there is the kind of keen insight about social media that only a 12-year-old can deliver.

It came today from Sean Tarala, the young man who knocked his aunt over while trying to give her a hug and broke her wrist.

So she sued him for medical bills.

Any reasonable person must have known that there was more to the story than a creepy aunt, but social media rarely waits for details. Or reason.

Over to you, outrage machine.


No, she’s not.

Jennifer Connell, the “hateful” aunt, finally got a chance to tell the story that should’ve been included from the start.

Appearing on the Today show this morning, she pointed out that under Connecticut law, she can’t sue the insurance company to cover her medical expenses under Sean’s parents’ homeowners policy. She can only sue an individual for negligence in a liability case.

The insurance company reportedly offered only $1 for her medical bills.

(Video link)

“This was simply a case of formality with an insurance claim,” she said. “I said at the start of this, ‘I don’t understand why. I don’t want to sue Sean.'”

“It was amazing how I walked into court that morning and walked out all over social media. It just spun and spun, and suddenly I was getting calls, ‘Don’t look at the Internet. Don’t turn on the television.’ And it was sort of heartbreaking and really painful, but also like walking into a film of someone else’s life.”

“I just feel that perhaps it’s the way the legal system is set up, so the insurance companies aren’t necessarily in the spotlight for stepping up and taking responsibilities for handling claims [on] properties.”

It also an example of how bad legal reporting damages justice, Law on the Web writes today. James Watkin said it’s much like the coverage of the case of the woman who sued McDonald’s over hot coffee.

The threat of being roundly shamed and humiliated, as happened in this case, might put off people from claiming for compensation in the future – this is great news for big corporations and businesses who want to cut corners, but not so good for people who have been genuinely wronged.

If this had been reported as “Insurance company forces woman to sue nephew after refusing to cover her medical bills”, perhaps Americans would have decided that this was unfair, and they might have been more likely to support health care reform.

Instead, almost all of the reporting focused on the perceived shortcomings of the aunt, averting any discussion of whether or not it was fair for her insurer to refuse to pay out.