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Legal Battle Over Misplaced Comma

A missing commahas created a lot of misunderstanding mainly because millions of dollars are at stake because of it.

Last week, the US Federal appeals court decided to keep alive a lawsuit initiated by dairy drivers who are seeking more than $10 million in a dispute that involves overtime pay.

The issue concerns Maine’s over time law, which does not apply to the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” foods. If you note, there is no comma serial or Oxford comma in the last few words “packing for shipment or distribution.

The drivers have stated these words refer to a single activity of packing, which they have never done. Oakhurst Dairy, the defendant states that the words refer to two different activities and drivers fall within the exemption. Oakhurst Dairy has been in the business of dairy products for many years in the state of Maine.

David Barrons, the Circuit Judge has stated that because of the “missing comma’ the ‘interpretation’ of the last few words change and that is why the case has to be kept alive.

The court has sided with the drivers and set a date for trial. The attorney for the drivers is elated with the decision because drivers have been fighting for overtime benefits for many years. This landmark dispute reveals that from now on, companies and corporations are better off reading every contract and ensuring that all ‘commas’ are in the right place. There should be no ambiguity in the contracts because more often than not, the courts side with the plaintiffs.

However, not all is settled between the drivers and Oakhurst Dairy; the latter plans to continue fighting the suit in court. So far the company has refused to give in but they are expected to go to trial to resolve the issue of the ‘comma.’

While this legal battle ensues, the cyber-world has also become involved in this controversy. Experts in the English language have also entered the fight of the ‘comma’ and believe that it is probably the most controversial punctuation mark.

Polls indicate that 50% of the people surveyed favor use of the comma and the other 50% state that a comma does not always have to be included. The Associated Press Style book does not recommend the use of the Oxford comma, except when it is required for clarity. If this text had been written by Associated Press’s guidelines, than a comma would have been included to indicate that packing and distribution were intended to be separate activities.

However, until the case goes to trial we will just have to wait and see what happens. Both sides are now trying to bring forward English language experts to help them out in court.

© 2012 Leon Jacobson, Esq., all rights reserved
Bukh Law Firm P.C., 14 Wall St, New York NY 10005
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