Thursday, May 15, 2014

Just How Much Is 'Two Undecillion Dollars'?

It is the amount that plaintiff Anton Purisima is demanding he be paid in compensation for sundry insults he allegedly received at the hands of the defendants Au Bon Pain Store, Carepoint Health, Hoboken University Medical Center, Kmart Store 7749, St. Luke's Emergency Dept., New York City Transit Authority, City of New York, NYC MTA, LaGuardia Airport Administration, Amy Caggiula -- oh yes, and the obligatory "John Does 1-1000."

The plaintiff wants this total sum for various "civil rights violations, personal injury, discrimination [based] on national origin, retaliation, harassment, fraud, attempted murder, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy to defraud." And did I mention it? He filed his complaint in the Southern District of New York acting as his own attorney ("pro se").

According to the article I linked above, Mr. Purisima now goes to the head of the line as being responsible for the largest amount ever demanded as damages in a civil lawsuit. (And he doesn't stop there -- he demands punitive damages, as well. Normally, punitive damages can be a two- to three-times multiple of general damages.)

So just how much money would, say, Au Bon Pain have to pay out if it were held jointly liable for causing the plaintiff such stupendous injuries? It is very difficult to envision -- for example, here is what a trillion dollars would like like, if gathered all in one place. And that info graphic actually continues on to depict the current total unfunded United States debt, of $122 trillion.

But $122 trillion is simply 122 followed by 12 zeroes: 122,000,000,000,000.

$2 undeciliion, however, is 2 followed by 36 zeroes, or three times as many:

2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

In exponential terms, the amount Mr. Purisima wants to be paid is 1024 of the total U.S. unfunded debt. How to envision that?

Indeed -- there is just one person who could make that number real: Randall Munroe, author of the great Webcomic strip xkcd, and the mathematically-based "what if" series. And in the latest of that series, he takes the world's highest-billing lawyer (Ted Olson, at a reported $1,800 per hour -- that's $30 per minute, or fifty cents a second), and calculates that even if Au Bon Pan were to hire an entire universe of Ted Olsons to defend it, and have to pay them each to work for a thousand years at $1,800 per hour round the clock, it still would come out ahead by defeating Mr. Purisima's lawsuit. (And that, of course, would be the point of hiring so many Ted Olson clones.)

For an entertaining treat, check out the latest "what if" from Randall Munroe.

2 comments:

  1. And it all goes back to that note that I found in the waste basket at the Taj Majal...it was folded up like a fortune cookie of some kind, but when opened, all knowledge was revealed to me. It read, "What possible difference, at this point, could it possibly make?"

    Estimado Vicario de esta Capilla: It is best that the civil proceedings not be conducted in Texas now, because we have no punitive damages, at least in terms of the "good old days" when Hidalgo County and other counties in South Texas were called the 'Plaintiffs' Attorneys' Lunchroom"

    Your article was wonderful lubricant for my squeaky, under-utilised "good humour" gland.

    El Gringo Viejo

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