Consider a disturbing — but true — story: A woman dates a man who says he wants to marry her. The man also needs a kidney, so the woman’s brother donates one of his. As the woman and her boyfriend are leaving the hospital following the transplant, the man informs her he wants to postpone the wedding. Within a year he ends the relationship and marries someone else. The woman and her brother sue for intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional and/or negligent misrepresentation.
How much money do you think the courts awarded them? The answer may shock you as much as the story did: They received nothing, said Jill Hasday, a former Scarsdale resident and author of the new book “Intimate Lies and the Law” (Oxford University Press).
“There are statutes that say you can’t sue for a breach of promise to marry. Courts tend to interpret them very broadly,” Hasday said in an interview with The Inquirer.
Hasday, a Distinguished McKnight University professor and the Centennial Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, will be at Harrison Public Library Monday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. for a book signing and discussion. She said she plans to provide a fascinating look at how the law protects — or doesn’t — people who are deceived within intimate relationships.
Growing up in Scarsdale, Hasday always had a career in mind. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I also wanted to be a professor. Once I realized I could be both, I was set,” she said. After an idyllic childhood spent “going to the Scarsdale pool, and enjoying the Halloween window painting and the annual sidewalk sale,” she graduated from Scarsdale High School in 1990 and attended Yale College, then Yale Law School. Prior to entering academia, she clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. Her first book, “Family Law Reimagined,” was published by Harvard University Press in 2014. (For more information, visit jillhasday.com.)
Inspiration for “Intimate Lies,” her second book, was easy to find. “As I’ve been teaching and writing about family law, I would occasionally come across cases where a deceptive intimate inflicted grievous injury and got away with it,” she explained. “The courts just weren’t willing to give a remedy for deception in intimate relationships, and that always struck me as really interesting. I kept it in mind as something I wanted to go back to.” Her book, she said, “is for anyone who’s ever experienced, committed or gossiped about deception in an intimate relationship, which is basically everyone.”
While readers might be shocked by some of the tales in the book, “nothing surprises me any more,” said Hasday. “In the early days I would read a case and think, ‘Gosh, this person has a secret family! How do they manage the logistics?’” Yet over time she said she realized “anything that might matter to one or both people in a relationship has been the subject of deception.”
Take the case of Paula, who connected with a man in an online chat room. Over the course of almost two years, Paula sent her guy more than $10,000 in gifts. The presents came from the heart — a heart that was broken when Paula eventually found out her guy was, in fact, a woman. Anguished, she sued her deceiver in Illinois court. “It seems to be a classic fraudulent misrepresentation claim: ‘You lied, you wanted me to rely [on you], I did rely, and I suffered injury,’” Hasday said. But the Illinois Supreme Court didn’t agree: “It said [in effect] you can’t sue because you’re suing an intimate for deception and we don’t care about deception.”
Why does the court offer so little protection for people duped by those closest to them?
“It’s hard to know,” Hasday said. “They treat deception as widespread, and they just want to take it as common sense that of course the courts protect it. Some courts — and this isn’t every court — go so far as to suggest that the future of heterosexual reproduction is at stake, and how would men and women meet and date and have children if they weren’t able to deceive each other? It’s interesting because in general our culture celebrates marriage and intimacy, and it’s a very different and much more grim picture to be painted here.”
Especially grim is the case of a man who, after ending things with his girlfriend, met and married another woman within months. Soon, his ex called him and said she was pregnant with his child. She also called his new wife and claimed the romance was still ongoing. The wife, distraught, committed suicide. The man sued his ex for intentional and negligent misrepresentation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Once again, according to Hasday’s book, the plaintiff got no redress — the court stated this kind of deceit is commonplace and shouldn’t trigger legal liability.
There are a couple of instances where the court will offer a remedy: if you contract a sexually transmitted disease such as herpes from someone who claims to be disease-free, since it’s a public health threat; and if you’re married to someone who turns out to be a bigamist, since that’s a crime.
In her book, Hasday proposed changes that could help people avoid being deceived in the first place. She’d like states to coordinate their public marriage and divorce records, so it would be easier for people to discover if a boyfriend or girlfriend is truly single. Similarly, she wishes criminal records weren’t so localized by state or county. Lastly, she thinks credit card statements should be sent to both spouses, so one spouse can’t secretly run up an enormous bill to finance an affair — and stick their partner with it.
Above all, Hasday said, listen to your inner voice if something in a relationship doesn’t add up. Be aware that deceivers often claim to have certain types of careers that entail long absences, including airline pilot, spy and Navy SEAL. And have some compassion for those who end up being deceived: “We want to believe that only the particularly vulnerable or stupid could fall for it,” she said. “But it’s just not true… anyone can be deceived. It’s much easier than you think.”