Kaitlyn Timko sued her father for emotional damage caused to her when he was shot in the head by a motorist. Read about it here (ABC News, 7/11/11). The 11-year-old girl is suing her dad through her mother, Lori Hardwerk.
Back in October 2008, Thomas Timko was driving near Philadelphia with his daughter Kaitlyn in the back seat. That was when he made two bad mistakes. Another driver apparently did something to anger him and Timko flipped him the bird. That was his first mistake. His second was to whom he chose to give the one-finger salute. That person turned out to be Christian Squillaciotti, a schizophrenic ex-marine armed with a pistol.
Squillaciotti shot Timko in the head. Timko survived but is permanently impaired as well as disfigured by scarring. Squillaciotti went to prison for his crime for up to 26 years.
Meanwhile, Lori Hardwerk seems to have made some plans. She and Timko were never married, but they’d lived together for 20 years prior to his shooting. Hardwerk was herself disabled in 2001 and hasn’t worked since. My guess is that Timko was her sole or primary support during the seven years between the onset of her disability and his in October, 2008.
In 2009, she and Timko “broke up.” That may be the article’s shorthand for her walking out on the man who was still trying to recover from his gunshot wound and unable to work. She took Kaitlyn with her.
The next thing Timko knew, Hardwerk had sued him “as next friend” of their daughter.
Unsurprisingly, Kaitlyn has experienced serious emotional difficulties brought on by seeing her father shot in the head when he was a matter of a few feet from her. She was eight at the time.
According to child psychologist Dr David Fassler, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, this horrific experience contained a perfect storm of factors that lead to Kaitlyn’s lasting trauma.
“Direct exposure to violent and confusing events involving people you know will typically have a more significant and lasting effect than a distant event involving strangers or acquaintances,” he said.
“Kids also tend to react more to incidents which threaten the stability and predictability of their lives and immediate families,” he says. “Kids who’ve had such experiences often require comprehensive and ongoing treatment to help them cope and go on with their lives.”
That’s easy to understand. What’s also easy to understand is that Timko has no job, no assets and skyrocketing medical costs. Being the defendant in a lawsuit, particularly one by his ex suing on behalf of his daughter, can’t improve matters much for him.
That’s even more true given the fact that, from where I stand, the case looks to be one of dubious merit. In civil law there’s a concept called “intervening causation.” Without being too tedious, that means that a defendant can’t be held liable for the wrongful act of someone else even though the defendant also acted negligently. The question is whether the defendant reasonably could have anticipated that the third party would act the way he/she did.
So, was it reasonable for Timko to expect to be shot by someone he flipped off? A jury will decide that, but it looks like a stretcher to me.
Whatever the case, the article linked to makes this case look like nothing but a fight over money. Timko has an insurance policy and indeed, Hardwerk has also sued Squillaciotti’s wife who was in the car with him at the time of the shooting. She’s also considering whether to sue the state agency that gave Squllaciotti a gun permit.
But there seems to be something else going on that may be more important than anything else in the case. Although the plaintiff’s attorney is at pains to deny it (me thinks he protests too much), the very act of filing a suit against someone is hostile in nature. It comes from bad feelings and breeds bad feelings.
My thought is that Lori Hardwerk is doing her daughter more harm than good. What the girl feels now and what she’ll feel in the future about bringing a civil suit against the man who’s been her loving father all his life remains to be seen. Add to that the fact that she’s clearly “kicking him when he’s down” seems to me to hold the possibility of producing extreme guilt in her if not now then later.
It turns out I’m not the only one.
Kaitlyn and her father have handled the situation by simply not discussing the case, Hardwerk said, but Fassler cautioned that if the suit does create further friction between Kaitlyn’s parents there’s a danger it may still be counterproductive for Kaitlyn herself.
“Ongoing conflict between parents, with or without legal involvement, puts kids at increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems, Fassler said. “In general, the sooner things get resolved, the better, for everyone involved.”
I guess Lori Hardwerk didn’t think of that. She seems not to have thought of “stand by your man” either, even though he’s stood by her all these years. And in the end, the one to suffer, in addition to Thomas Timko, will be his daughter who is currently too young to appreciate exactly what her mother is doing.