You might, by now, have heard of Mr Purisma, an unfortunate fellow who got bitten by a dog on a bus, and sued as a result. He included a variety of other grievances in his lawsuit, including that he was routinely overcharged for his coffee at an airport and that Chinese tourists took photographs of him.
What makes it newsworthy is the value he sets on his claim. Two thousand undecillion dollars. If, like me, you are thinking that this is the sort of number that some six year old invented “A gabillion-zillion-million-bajillion” then you are wrong. The amount, in dollars of his claim is $2,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
I didn’t come across this claim on the legal blogs, though it has hit a few now (damn you, other people writing on something I’d hoped to write about), but on the uber geek site xkcd. And I’ve been wanting to have a chance to plug xkcd for ages now, and this seemed like a good opportunity.
One thing that Randall Munro, the creator of xkcd, does every week, is take a ludicrously out there question and apply real life science and maths to it – in the past he has explained what would happen if a baseball pitcher could throw a ball at the speed of light (which is mind-boggling), whether you could make something take off and fly by firing sufficient machine guns down at the ground, how many people a T-Rex would have to eat a day to survive, and dozens of others.
On this one, Randall ignores whether the lawsuit is plausible and whether the quantum is reasonable, in favour of just working out if there is currently that much money in the world (no), and if there would ever be (no) and if it could ever be produced before all the stars in the universe go out (no), or whether if you melted down the world and sold it to aliens for scrap that would pay for the compensation (no) but he does this in a beautiful and stylish way that I can only commend to you all
By weight, the single most valuable thing that’s been bought and sold on an open market is probably the Treskilling Yellow postage stamp. There’s only one known copy of it, and in 2010 it sold for $2,300,000. That works out to about $30 billion per kilogram of stamps. If the Earth’s weight were entirely postage stamps, it would still not be enough to pay off Au Bon Pain’s potential debt.
Culminating in working out that if the respondent hired the most expensive lawyer on earth [who charges apparently $1,800 per hour], and every single planet so far discovered in the universe was populated entirely by clones of that lawyer, and the respondent employed them ALL, the costs would still be dwarfed by the lawsuit, and it would be worth fighting the case.
Presumably the court fee was not a fixed percentage of the quantum of the claim!