Article of the Week: "For Want of a Comma, We Have This Case"

Introduction

Earlier this month, the FindLaw blog posted an article highlighting the importance of grammar and editing, especially in the legal field.

Summary

This article discusses the state of Maine's case of O'Connor v. Oakhurt Dairy. In this case, dairy delivery drivers were fighting their employers for overtime pay. However, Maine's law requiring employers to pay workers time and a half after 40 hours a week exempts a variety of jobs in the food production industry.

The law excludes "canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution." This case was brought to court to settle the dispute over a misinterpretation due to the lack of an oxford comma. The dairy drivers argued that the grammatical format of the law required they be paid overtime, while the Oakhurt Dairy strongly disagreed.

Both parties referred to the Cannons of Construction in their defense, but there was not enough evidence to fully support either side. In the end, the courts settled in favor of the drivers because of the unclear interpretation of the law.

Why We Care

"Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

Clarity of written communication is critical. Construction is not theoretically difficult to understand; it's not much more than sticks and stones stacked neatly. If we, as contractors, can't communicate our message clearly to someone who does not have much background in construction, it is a problem with the communicator (us), not the communicatee.