Hero Attorney Sued

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Mark Morice, a New Orleans attorney, has been called one of the heroes of Hurricane Katrina, after he used three boats to rescue more than 200 of his neighbors from rising flood waters. Among them was a 93-year-old dialysis patient, Irving Gordon, who Morice carried out of his flooded home and took to safety. “I don’t know where we would be today if it weren’t for him,” said the man’s wife, Molly Gordon.

As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished, and no heroic deed goes unlitigated. Morice is now being sued by the owner of one of the boats.

At a news conference last Friday, Morice explained what had happened. When water started rising in the neighborhood, he said, he sent text messages to friends who weren’t home asking them if they had boats he could use. Several said yes but all of those boats were either unusable or already in use. Morice then saw two other boats behind a locked gate, and used bolt cutters to get in. The keys to one of the boats were in its ignition, and Morice took that one. That’s the one he used to rescue the Gordons, and the next day he was one of ten boaters who helped evacuate patients from Memorial Medical Center. He and others siphoned gas out of the cars in the upper levels of the hospital’s parking garage to rescue others over the next few days. Eventually, Morice says he left the boat near dry ground for other rescuers to use.

John Lyons never got his boat back, and when insurance would only pay half the replacement value, he promptly sent a  letter to Morice demanding the other half. He knew Morice had taken the boat because Morice had come to their house last October to say he had taken it and to explain why. He even emailed Lyons a picture of himself rescuing people with the boat.

That may have been what made Lyons mad, since the lawsuit alleges that Morice took the boat “solely to promote himself and his law practice.” Funny that reports at the time, like this one, didn’t mention anything about Morice giving out his business card:

Private citizens were already [as of August 30, the day after the levees broke] conducting rescue efforts. In New Orleans, Mark Morice, 35, steered his boat through four feet of water, downed power lines and broken tree limbs.  “We are going out, there are people out there on top of homes,” he said[, unveiling a large banner reading HAVE YOU BEEN INJURED?  CALL MARK MORICE, ATTORNEY AT LAW.]

Emphasis added, bracketed material made up. Rescuee Molly Gordon said she was baffled by the boat owner’s lawsuit. “This man should be so grateful he had a boat that saved lives,” she said.

The complaint does not seem to mention any gratitude, although it does mention that Lyons suffered “grief, mental anguish, embarrassment and suffering . . . due to the removal of the boat,” in addition to losing the replacement costs. Lyons’ lawyer said his client was fine with rescuing and all, but he accused Morice of “hubris,” apparently for thinking he had the right to do what was necessary to save lives in the middle of a natural disaster. How dare you, sir? He said that Morice should have returned the boat when he was finished, or, he continued, “I would have at least left a note.”

Morice said he thought Lyons was kidding when he sent the demand letter, that he had never sought any publicity, and that “next time there’s a major storm or natural disaster and I’m called [on] to save lives, I’ll try to remember to bring a pen and paper” to leave the appropriate notes.  Hubris indeed, sir, sheer hubris.