ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day!

Groundhogday2005 It was Groundhog Day yesterday and Punxsuatawney Phil did not see his shadow.  Spring, in other words, is officially around the corner, definitely less than six weeks away.  Or is it?  Can we hold the Inner Circle the group on whose behalf  Punxsuatawney Phil acts – to this happy prediction?  What should we make of the annual February 2nd hoopla?  Does it provide a reliable forecast – it is promoted as a "reliable prediction of when spring will begin" after all

The pertinent question is whether there is even a hint of any intention to be legally obliged by the assurance of reliability that accompanies every such 'Philly' prediction?  An assurance, I might add, that draws thousands of avid devotees to the ceremony annually.  But then, do we even think of suing the weatherman when the weather forecast on the evening news is wrong?  Perhaps the analogy is not such a good one – we should compare apples with apples.  Your humble weatherman on the evening news is not to be compared with the likes of such a prophetic rodent as Phil, I suppose. 

A reasonable response to the spring prediction might be to treat it all as a publicity stunt.  Nothing but an elaborate performance.  One by Phil and the Inner Circle, on behalf of the Borough of Gobblers Knob in Punxsuatawney Pennsylvania that surely is most appreciative of the tourist traffic. 

So, perhaps it is all in jest?  This has, after all, been an annual event for the last 125 years.  Surely the groundhog Phil of yesterday’s prediction cannot be the same Phil of the first ever 'Philly' groundhog spring prediction.  Or, can he be?  There are those whispers about a certain elixir of life.   There is an alternative explanation of course – that the Inner Circle has had an inexhaustible supply of prophetic Phils over the years – but this strains credulity.

I suppose one could take an analytical approach and test Phil’s batting average over the years.  It is a matter of public record after all.  Apparently Phil has seen his shadow 99 times, and not seen his shadow 16 times .  It should not be too difficult to map Phil’s predictions against historical weather records.  But perhaps we need not bother to do even that.   

Considering the fierce snowstorms presently lashing a large swath of the US, a not unreasonable conclusion would be that Phil’s prediction yesterday morning was nothing but a bold faced statement to be taken with a pinch of salt.  How can spring be near when weathermen are panicking about 'thundersnow'?  Reasonably reliable?  I haven’t done the math, but I strongly suspect that Phil’s predictions are not very reliable at all.  Poor Phil.

This does mean of course, that Phil’s predictions are poor candidates for contractual liability.  No failure of consideration, no misrepresentation, no estoppel.  Poor disappointed litigious weather watchers.  Lucky Phil.  

[Eniola O Akindemowo]

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