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When weather doesn't suit you, sue weatherman

In a move sure to be fodder for columnists and other alleged comedians the

world over, a woman is suing an Israeli TV weatherman for malpractice.

This is roughly equivalent to taking your astrologer to court for a bad star

chart, but apparently Israel is no more immune to inane lawsuits than we are in

the US of A, where people get zillions as a reward for their own stupidity,

such as spilling hot coffee in their laps.

According to a story in the Maariv daily newspaper, the weatherman, one

Danny Rup, predicted a sunny day, so a Haifa woman went out dressed lightly.

The weather turned stormy, she caught the flu, missed four days' work and spent

$38 on medication.

She's suing for $1,000 as financial compensation for her stress and

sneezing, and she wants Rup to apologize. I'm totally unsympathetic. My

suggestion is the woman should have spent less money on Thera-flu and more on

Prozac.

The frightening prospect is that the Israeli case could inspire copycat

lawsuits in America.

Raining dental floss?

Weather forecasting is a science, but as yet, not an exact one. If they were

sued every time they were wrong, the only forecaster left would be grandma's

rheumatiz.

A spokesman for the National Weather Service said, "We'd like to be right

all the time, and we are right most of the time."

The spokesman said several suits have been filed in the United States, but

so far, no weathermen have been executed for faulty forecasting because the

judges know forecasters use the best scientific methods and Ouija boards

available.

The man we think of at our house when we think of weather, and we think of

weather almost constantly, is WGN-TV's Tom Skilling, the man of 1,000 maps.

Skilling said the news story caught his ear, and he hopes it doesn't become

fashionable.

"It's a junk suit," he said with that irrepressible exuberance he has over

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anything weather-related. The worse the weather, the more excited he gets

because it means he can drag out another 500 maps to explain why it's suddenly

raining dental floss in Dyer or a glacier is blocking the left lane at the 95th

Street toll plaza on the Tri-State Tollway.

"It could end up that we have to take valuable air time and waste time

stating the obvious, that it is an information segment and, due to acts of God,

it doesn't always work out. Nothing would surprise me anymore," he said.

No points for stupidity

To expect weathermen to make accurate long-range forecasts - anything

extending beyond, say, the next five or 10 minutes - means you are either

overly trusting of authority or hopelessly gullible.

It is only one small step from there to believing politicians' campaign

promises or that vice presidents are selected because they will be the best

person to take over if the president dies.

Chuck Sennet, senior counsel for Tribune Broadcasting, said, "I wouldn't

lose any sleep over it. I think the courts would say there isn't a legal duty

owed by the TV station or the TV meteorologist to viewers to give them an

accurate forecast."

Sennet said it's not like a viewer hires the meteorologist to give

individual advice. He compared it to someone postponing a loan refinancing

because a newspaper columnist, certainly not me, erroneously predicts interest

rates will drop.

"It's just predicting," Sennet said. "All of us have been

inconvenienced by the weather. It could open it up to anybody who has missed a

plane, been late for work or had a picnic cancelled because of the weather or

who didn't get sufficient warning of a tornado.

"The idea of a malpractice lawsuit against a weatherman is scary, but just

filing it doesn't mean they will win."

Yeah, but being a stupid lawsuit doesn't mean they will lose, either.

You can e-mail Phil at wieland@howpubs.com

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