Lis, the other day I received an overpriced, absolutely horrible haircut that made me want to cry when I walked out the door. To make matters worse, I spent a fortune. I admit that it was from a salon I had never been to before, at a place I had never been before, but they came highly recommended. But shouldn’t I expect at least an adequate haircut? Can I get my money back or sue? — Horrible Haircut Harriet, St. Louis, MO
Out of curiosity, HOW BAD was the haircut? Was this just a matter of opinion on your part? Or, did the barber give you a truly unforgivable, unprofessional haircut? If that’s the case, I’d assume that you can receive a refund— or, maybe you won’t have to pay at all.
As for the legalities, by agreeing to the haircut, you’ve created an oral contract. In exchange for a (good) haircut, you will pay him the fifteen bucks. By not providing you with a decent haircut, the barber has not lived up to his end of the bargain. Therefore, you should not have to pay him.
But could you sue for greater damages? Probably not. But this could really depend on the circumstances. Let’s say you’re a huge movie star. You come to Bad Barber for a haircut. Bad Barber knows how important your image is to maintain, but Bad Barber totally mess up your hair. Can you sue Bad Barber for excessive damages? If he works for himself, why not? If he works for a large chain (would a big film star really go to chain?) you could sue the employer under the theory of respondent superior.
Let me give you an example of a case where someone did successfully sue over a haircut. Sally Miller of Wilsonville, Oregon sued her son’s school district after a district employee gave her son a bad haircut. Though the haircut apparently involved cutting off nearly all the kid’s hair, the real liability rested in the fact that the mother had never given the school district any kind of permission to cut her son’s hair. Do you really want your child’s elementary school making that kind of decision?
So, except for the possibility of some compelling factors like the ones in Wilsonville, chances are you can’t sue over a bad haircut. Better be careful before you go to Bad Barber.
Antiquated “Spousal Theft” Laws
Let’s say that Johnny, a plumber, marries Sandra, a Mississippi millionaire. A few years later, Sandra starts working with Jerry, and later begins an affair with him. Sandra gets pregnant. Johnny, suspecting his wife’s infidelity, orders a paternity test confirming that Jerry was the dad. Can Jerry not only sue his millionaire wife, but also Jerry for ruining his marriage? Yikes. You can't make this stuff up.
It turns out that Mississippi is one of seven states that allow lawsuits over “spousal theft.” This goes back to outdated laws based on the idea that a wife was a husband’s property and that a woman, herself, lacked the mental ability to decide for herself whether to engage in an act of infidelity. (The other states that still abide by “spousal theft” are Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.)
The story we described is real. Johnny Valentine successfully sued Jerry Fitch Sr. for $750,000 in Mississippi state court, proving that “through persuasion, enticement or inducement, [Fitch] caused or contributed to the abandonment of the marriage and/or the loss of affections by active interference.” The decision was even upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Fitch, however, is now trying to limit the damages to $112,000.
Last month, Fitch filed a petition with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia where he requested the court to postpone enforcement of the state court judgment, till he finds out whether the high court will hear the case. But as far as we know, Fitch has not yet filed a request with the Supreme Court.
“I don't consider myself property,” Sandra said on Network TV. “Not Johnny's, not anyone's. Just my own.” She claimed that Johnny was in it for “Just the money … He had already alienated my affection with gambling, so the marriage was already over before I met Jerry. So he's wrong.”
None of us can comment on what actually happened between Johnny and Sandra. People get divorced. Stuff happens. But there’s a reason why this antiquated kind of law exists now only in seven states: it’s reeks of sexism and sends us back to the 1950’s. Happily, as the old saying goes, “we’ve come along way baby.”
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.