Legal News for the ‘Modern Family’: Joy, sadness, horror, outrage

Sophia Vergara − currently one of the leads in TV's popular sitcom, "Modern Family" − chose to freeze embryos with husband Nick Loeb. Now they are heading for divorce.

Burger and King.
Mr. Burger and Ms. King: A marriage made in Burger Heaven? (Screen capture from YouTube video)

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2015 − When she was engaged to Nick Loeb, mega-superstar actress Sophia Vergara − currently one of the leads in TV’s popular sitcom, “Modern Family” − chose to freeze some of their embryos, looking toward a future time when she might choose to have a family.

Sofia Vergara.
TV star Sofia Vergara. (Via Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, the best laid eggs, like the best laid plans, can often go astray. Vergara and Loeb split up about a year ago. Now Loeb − a scion of both the Loeb family (founders of brokerage firm Loeb, Rhoades) and the Lehman family (founders of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers) – is suing Vergara because she wants the embryos destroyed. The couple had no agreement about who would control the embryos if they split.

The Supreme Court has ruled that it is a fundamental personal right to reproduce. Conversely, there is a right not to.

In a Tennessee case, Davis v. Davis, the father wanted the embryos destroyed, and the mother wanted them preserved. The court there found in the father’s favor, saying his right to avoid parenthood outweighed the mother’s interest in donating.

But the law on this issue is vague. If Loeb wins, can Vergara be sued for child support?

The flip side of the legal spectrum occurred in Illinois. There, a woman sued her doctor for “wrongful pregnancy” following her tubal ligation surgery.

The woman and her husband both carry the gene for sickle cell disease. They told the doctor of their fears and requested he perform a tubal ligation on her left fallopian tube. Her right ovary had been previously removed due to a prior medical condition.

The doctor, in a grossly negligent oversight, ended up performing the ligation on the right fallopian tube, not even noticing it was unconnected to any ovary. The woman later gave birth to a baby girl who had sickle cell disease.

Most states view birth as both a joy and a benefit, not as an event that gives rise to legal “damage.” Courts thus do not sanction damages in this type of case. Such damages would typically include the cost of giving birth and the costs associated with raising a child. In this particular case, they would also include the additional costs of medical care for the child.

Some states do allow for the extraordinary costs of raising a sick child. In these cases, successful claims involve showing that the parents communicated their fears to the doctor and that the doctor was more than simply negligent. The result in this Illinois case has not been made public to date.

Elsewhere in that state, we encounter a very different story. While we do not know whether a Springfield, Ill., couple will eventually choose to have babies, for now let’s applaud Burger King for agreeing to assist them with their upcoming marriage.

Dating from their fifth grade days, this pair of lifelong soul mates are getting a big assist for their upcoming nuptials, since Burger King is paying for the wedding.

The couple recently announced their engagement by posting a photo of themselves next to a local Burger King restaurant sign. Now, BK is all over it, with happy results for the lucky couple – Joel Burger and Ashley King – who will wed on July 17.

Send your congratulations to Joel and Ashley. No word for now, however, as to who’s doing the catering for the wedding, or if the happy couple’s first child will be nicknamed “Little Whopper.”

Speaking of children, and moving along on today’s family journey, as pretty much everyone understands, all kids will eventually go to school. In school, they take lots of tests. For that reason and for many others, we legitimately assume that all teachers’ primary interest is in educating our children.

But this didn’t appear the case for eleven public school educators in Atlanta. Earlier this month, they  were convicted of serious misdeeds in a complex test-score conspiracy.

More concerned about getting bonuses and keeping their jobs, these teachers engaged in a conspiracy to alter standardized test scores for their students to make it appear the students were doing better than their actual test scores revealed.

Two of the defendants accepted deals with prosecutors that limited their legal punishment. The others, however, refused to own up to what they’d been proven in court to have done. Unlike the first two, the rest of the defendants would not take deals from the prosecutor that required them to do so. Thus, they received harsh sentences ranging from one to seven years in jail.

In other family news, as most married couples will agree, mothers-in-law are often an important presence, despite all the jokes that continue to proliferate. Clearly, however, even if one has a serious mother-in-law issue, intentionally shooting your mother-in-law is most definitely discouraged as a solution to one’s family problems. Okay, perhaps we’re not exactly talking intentional here. But the following incident will certainly be showing up soon somewhere soon in that ever-expanding category of mother-in-law jokes.

A Leesburg, Ga., mother-in-law is recovering after her son-in-law fired his 9mm pistol at an armadillo. Similar to the meatball (in the song) that kept going forever, that 9mm bullet accidentally found its way into this elderly lady. It bounced off of the hard shell of the armadillo, hit a fence, continued through the back door of the mother-in-law’s mobile home, went straight through the recliner upon which she was sitting and finally struck her in the back.

The destruction of families does not always occur from within. But that Georgia incident and another one that occurred elsewhere prove guns are dangerous.

In Cleveland a 3-year-old boy picked up an unattended gun in a home and it went off. The bullet struck a nearby 1-year-old boy in the head and killed him. The deceased child’s mother lived in the home with her three small children and was on the back porch at the time of the incident.

To close out today’s column in a more positive vein, it is to be hoped that the very definition of “family” will be legally resolved, beginning on April 28. That’s when the nation will be tuning in on the oral arguments in four marriage equality cases currently awaiting decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. Cases from Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio are all being argued, with decisions expected by the end of June, when the court traditionally ends its yearly term.

The Supreme Court ultimately has the chance here to bring an end to the serious and discriminatory harms caused by marriage laws in a minority of states that continue to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

Cases in point:

Pam Yorksmith rushed her baby son to an emergency room. Hospital officials would not treat the boy until Pam’s partner, the birth mother, gave permission.

Jim Obergefell needed a court order to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate.

These are two of the 31 people whose lives are being deeply affected by the ignorance or fears of the elected officials and courts in the states in which they live. Many are suing over the right to marry, while others want their states to recognize a marriage performed elsewhere. These people include young parents and even grandparents.

A petition in the one of the cases notes:

Tennessee’s Court of Appeals holding not only denies recognition to petitioners’ own marriages and families, but also establishes a checkerboard nation in which same-sex couples’ marriages are dissolved and reestablished as they travel across the country. That is the antithesis of the stability that marriage is supposed to afford. 

Our final analysis of family law and all of its related legal issues: There’s never a dull moment.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order


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  • Simplythefactsmam

    Considering the approximately 50% lifetime divorce rate, I don’t get the reference to much stability. Liberal states divorce at a lower rate than Conservative states, too.