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Accidents, disagreements and liabilities – a festive sampling of holiday legal hazards

Gavel to Gavel appears in The Journal Record. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 21, 2018.


Phillips Murrah litigation attorney Hillary Clifton discusses holiday legal hazards.

Hilary Hudson Clifton is a litigation attorney who represents individuals and both privately-held and public companies in a wide range of civil litigation matters. Click photo to visit her attorney profile.

As we find ourselves in the midst of another holiday season, it’s a good time to contemplate the joys this time of year brings. For many, that list includes extra time with loved ones, hearty food and cozy pajamas.

Hopefully, holiday-specific “legal woes” are less likely to come to mind. Nevertheless, holidays often have their own unique histories of legal issues that few would equate with the brotherly love and fa-la-la-falderal we expect during this “most wonderful time of the year.”

By this time, those who opened their homes and businesses on Halloween hopefully avoided any incidents associated with the spookier part of the season, like haunted house trip-and-falls or home-made cotton-ball sheep costume fires (see Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc.).

Premises liability, however, remains a major concern for retailers preparing for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. Though most Black Friday retail giants are now well-acquainted with the safety risks associated with enormous sales and even bigger crowds, smaller retailers should be sure to beef up their safety protocol and brush up on premises liability concepts to keep the shopping season incident-free.

In addition to civil liability, failure to adequately cope with Black Friday madness can result in a business being cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers” can be found online.

Less tangible injuries to intellectual property rights will often arise in connection with holiday-themed entertainment. One case that has been in the news recently involves the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which puts a darker twist on Sabrina the Teenage Witch), and The Satanic Temple’s claim that a statue featured in the show of the goat-headed Baphomet infringes on the Temple’s copyright of its own monument.

There’s also a fair chance that your favorite Christmas carol continues to generate income as someone’s intellectual property – and that someone would like to keep it that way (think the listless bachelor played by Hugh Grant in About A Boy). Of course, many holiday favorites, like Deck the Halls and Silent Night, have become part of the public domain and are perfect for spreading Christmas cheer. Others, like Frosty the Snowman, are still protected by copyright and require a license for public performances.

Finally, if you have any particularly overzealous family members, you might turn the threat of intellectual property litigation to your advantage, by cautioning that their makeshift mistletoe hats infringe on the “mistletoe supporting headband” patented in 1983 or the “Kiss Me” holiday cap patented in 1999.

Though I wouldn’t recommend Grinch-ing up your holiday parties by casually chatting about all the ways one might get sued before the new year, we should all keep in mind that no season is immune from the unfortunate reality of accidents, disagreements and liabilities – no matter how sincere our sentiments of peace on earth and good will toward man.

Phillips Murrah sponsors OU Law’s Best Brief Award

Eight 1L students were awarded the Best Brief Award, sponsored by Phillips Murrah, on April 19 at the University of Oklahoma's Competitions and Clinic Awards Luncheon.

Eight 1L students were awarded the Best Brief Award, sponsored by Phillips Murrah, on April 19 at the University of Oklahoma’s Competitions and Clinic Awards Luncheon.

First-year law students in the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law put their studies to the test to compete for the Best Brief Award, sponsored by Phillips Murrah law firm.

“All 1L students at OU Law are required to write an appellate brief in their Legal Writing and Research class, and this brief is later used to argue their case in the 1L Moot Court Competition,” Attorney Kendra M. Norman said.

Following the the 1L Moot Court Competition, top appellate briefs were judged and recognized at The Competitions and Clinic Awards Luncheon on April 19 at Robert S. Kerr Student Lounge on campus.

Norman and Hilary H. Clifton, Phillips Murrah Attorneys and OU Alumnae, represented the Firm in awarding the $5,000 Best Brief Award to the top eight students.

“Writing my first brief took an immense amount of research on the topic as well as meticulous editing and structuring of the brief to maximize the effectiveness and persuasiveness of the legal arguments involved,” Norman said. “It was a new style of writing for me, so I devoted a substantial amount of time to making my brief the very best that I could and learning the intricacies of how to effectively convey legal arguments.”

The $5,000 prize is divided among the winners and is the only OU College of Law writing award with a monetary gift.

“The moot court competition is a very exciting and frequently terrifying right of passage for all first year law students,” Clifton said. “At first, writing the brief seems like an insurmountable task, but it’s such a satisfying feeling to complete your first major piece of legal writing.

“The topics usually involve really interesting topics in Constitutional or criminal law, which is a nice change of pace from the fundamentals you spend most of your time learning as a 1L. My year, the brief was due at noon on St. Patrick’s day, and I remember frantically trying to finish so that I could go celebrate, but I’m pretty sure I spent the rest of the day catching up on sleep instead.”

Norman represents clients in a broad range of transactional matters, and Clifton represents individuals and companies in the Firm’s Litigation Practice Group.

Click here to learn more about the OU College of Law.

Firm Halloween Party raises funds for Harvest Food Drive

Phillips Murrah staff members were given the chance to test their creativity and help raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma on Tuesday at the Firm’s annual Halloween Party.