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MONDAY, MAY 9, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Thoughts of suing can wait when somebody is injured

Here's a pop quiz. You won't have much time to answer or to reverse a bad decision. The results will give a hint about your instincts and basic decency.

Question: A restaurant worker accidentally cuts off the tip of his finger. You buy frozen custard from the restaurant and find the fingertip in it. Do you:

(a) Return the fingertip to its owner so that doctors can try to reattach it, which sometimes works if done within six hours of the injury; or

(b) Keep the finger, which could be evidence in a lawsuit, and contact a lawyer and the news media.

Most people, we hope, would answer (a), but that's not what happened in Wilmington, N.C., on May 1.

At Kohl's Frozen Custard, worker Brandon Fizer, 23, stuck his right hand into a mixing machine. It cut off his index finger at the first knuckle.

One customer saw employees searching for something, probably the fingertip. News reports say another customer, Clarence Stowers, found it within about 30 minutes of the accident.

The store manager asked him for the fingertip, according to Kohl's Web site. "Unfortunately, the customer refused to give it to her and declared that he would be calling the TV stations and an attorney as he exited the store," its statement said. Mr. Stowers stored the fingertip in his freezer at home and took it out occasionally to show on TV.

Mr. Stowers' attorney said his client was concerned about possible disease and wanted to get the fingertip tested. "Emotionally, it's been very upsetting to him," said the lawyer. Such language often shows up in a lawsuit, though the lawyer wouldn't say whether he intended to file one.

Kohl's may have liability, especially in light of the fact that another worker lost a fingertip there in July. A law professor said giving up the fingertip need not have hurt Mr. Stowers' chances in a suit. He could have photographed it, taken some flesh for DNA analysis, or gotten a surgeon's affidavit.

But the guy who has been definitely wronged here is Mr. Fizer, who has his own lawyer and may be thinking of suing the man who wouldn't give his finger back.

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