Think of the comma, that small, underused, throwaway punctuation mark. How unimportant, how easy to ignore it is. But like nerds in a bad 1980s movie, the comma finally got its revenge.
It all started, strangely enough, when a woman’s pickup truck was impounded under an ordinance forbidding street parking of “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement, and/or non-motorized vehicle.” She fought the impounding, arguing that her truck was neither a “motor vehicle camper” nor any of the other listed vehicles. The state argued that the missing comma between the words “vehicle” and “camper” was an obvious typo that should not change the ordinance’s self-evident meaning.
While the traffic court smiled and nodded and found for the state, a Court of Appeals took the other view. It put the onus on the city to actually write what it means in its ordinance book, and threw out the citation. (The ordinance was promptly amended.)
Perhaps our greatest point of pride at the Roth Law Firm is to write in plain English, and not blabber on for 15 words when 3 will do. Yet we are also keenly aware that legally binding documents may well one day be interpreted in a court of law. So when the Florida Supreme Court holds that “arising out of” and “arising out of or related to” mean two separate things, we pick the one that captures our client’s intent, even if it sounds repetitive.
And we punctuate with great care.
(Our gratitude to Reader’s Digest and the Washington Post for first reporting this charming story of “victory for punctuation.”)