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The $50 billion no-account Baton Rouge bank error | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, July 09, 2021 @ 2:32 PM | By Marcel Strigberger

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Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
What would you do if you thought you just magically received $50 billion? Conversely what would you do if you found out you just lost $50 billion? Ask Daren James of Baton Rouge, La., whose bank mistakenly deposited this amount to his account. 

His wife called him frantically to give him some news. She asked him to sit down before spilling the beans. I don’t know exactly what she said but it was probably something like, “Honey, today we’re having steak tonight for dinner …”

I readily see how this mixup could cause nervous shock and result in a good case for damages for mental distress. 

Such unexpected news can easily rattle anybody. I think of that Supreme Court of Canada case, Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd. [2008] 2 S.C.R. 114 where the plaintiff suffered big time emotional trauma after noticing flies in his spring water container. The court dismissed his claim noting that it was not foreseeable that a few flies in your water would so much freak out a person of “ordinary fortitude.” 

This case is much more serious. The sudden thought of getting $50 billion buys you only so much fortitude. On the contrary, it probably depletes it. Even Bill Gates would say something whacko, like, “I’m speechless. Meet me at Duff’s. I’m buying.”

There would likely be no difficulty finding an expert shrink to support the plaintiff’s claim here. From my experience as a plaintiff’s lawyer, I can see the report reading:

“I am a psychiatrist specializing in bank trauma. I examined the patient, and it is clear to me that news of suddenly receiving and then losing a 10-figure sum triggered a behavioural disorder resulting in an aversion to money. He notes that he played Monopoly recently and when he drew the Chance card saying, “bank error in your favour; collect $200,” he took it personally and started to cry. Now he gets hyper anxious looking at zeros. He even stopped eating bagels. (By the way, I should mention that my expertise also includes a subspecialty in emotional distress caused by round objects) …”

James actually did call the bank to report the unusual deposit. He likely got a voice message such as, “Your call is important to us …” This was probably the only time this type of message had a ring of truth in it. In future I see the banks changing their insipid voice messages to include something like, “This is Emily. I understand full sentences. If we erroneously dumped a few billion into your account, just shout, ‘I’m giving it all back.’ ”

My views of there being a good case for damages are bolstered by the fact that this matter occurred in Louisiana, being the only state where civil law is governed not by the common law rules but rather the Civil Code, also known as the Napoleonic Code. The Louisiana provisions are no doubt similar to the Civil Code of Quebec, where Article 1465 reads,

            Act of a thing

“The custodian of a thing is bound to make reparation for injury caused resulting from the autonomous act of the thing, unless he proves he is not at fault.”

This case is clear. The bank’s algorithm likely pulled this stunt. An algorithm is a thing. It probably said to itself, “How about we have some fun with the James?” Guilty.

As for damages, the Civil Code would circumvent the common law problem encountered by Mustapha. I googled “Napoleon- Civil Code-emotional damages” and came up with, “What do the British know about ordinary fortitude? They never had to freeze their asses off in a Russian winter.”

And no doubt an aggravating factor in this man’s case is that it happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank put $50 billion in front of him only to shortly afterwards make him social distant from it.

I say he pursue access to justice and issue a claim.

In addition to Darren James, I feel sorry for his wife. After he called the bank to report the unusual deposit, she likely said, “Honey, I guess we’re not having those steaks.”

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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