By Phillip Addis —
In the 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” Susan Walker tells Kris Kringle, “If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can’t, you’re only a nice old man with a white beard.”
Given the litigious nature of society, that classic movie line may need to be updated to, “If you’re really Santa Claus, you can get it for me … or I’ll call my lawyer.”
We know Santa flies an unregistered aircraft, runs a toy factory unchecked by OSHA, pays no taxes, engages in mass-marketing and distribution sans permits, and utilizes multiple identities (St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Papa Noёl, etc.). Can he be sued for these or any of the other theoretical crimes he commits?
Can you sue Santa if he brings you the wrong gift?
No. The only way to sue Santa for bringing you the wrong gift is if you have a contract with the toymaker. Contracts require an agreement or understanding between the parties and consideration (money or something of value) changing hands. A letter or email to Santa is not equal to a contract. Think of it more as an offer or request. Milk and cookies, plus carrots for the reindeer—though nice treats—are not the same as consideration.
If you end up on the naughty list, is that defamation, libel or slander?
No. First of all, truth is an absolute defense to defamation, libel or slander. If you belong on the naughty list, don’t blame Santa. If you think it is a little more in the gray area, sometimes good, sometimes bad, then I would recommend a letter to Santa pleading your case. For a small fee, you should be able to hire a lawyer to help you craft a letter highlighting the good things you have done throughout the year and downplaying the minor missteps. Lawyers are very adept at persuasive arguments, and depending on how bad you were, you may need our help.
Is Santa guilty of breaking and entering or trespassing?
No. If you invite someone into your home, you cannot charge him or her with trespassing. Hanging stockings by the fireplace, leaving notes and putting out cookies and milk for Santa counts as an invitation.
If the reindeer damage your roof, can you sue Santa for the repairs?
Santa is only responsible if the damage to the roof can be traced to the reindeer. Good luck explaining to the insurance company how Rudolph’s hooves caused the damage.
Does Santa suppress the First Amendment?
No. Remember the rhyme, “You better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why.” This is only a suggestion from Santa, not an order. In order to restrain free speech, one must be prevented from speaking (or in this case, pouting, shouting or crying).
To steal a line from Francis Church in the Sept. 21, 1897, edition of The New York Sun, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but in this attorney’s opinion, he is immune from lawsuits.
Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See you next year.
Phil Addis is a lifelong resident of La Crosse, the owner of Addis Law Offices and affiliated with the DeWitt, Ross & Stevens law firm. He also admits that from time to time he may have spent time on Santa’s Naughty List.
504 Main Street, Suite 200
La Crosse, WI 54601