Who's seeking damages from whom?

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Ambiguous headline:

"Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities Seeking COVID-19 Damages", by Frank Fang (August 13, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020)

My fix: 

"Chinese Citizen Seeking COVID-19 Damages Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities"


Selected readings


  1. Laura Morland said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 6:45 am

    Your suggestion is the best, but even a comma would have made all the difference:

    "Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities, Seeking COVID-19 Damages"

    (I would actually prefer a semicolon, but they don't seem to be a part of headline punctuation.)

  2. S. Valkemirer said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 7:39 am

    Another possibility is "Seeking COVID-19 Damages, Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities, " which has the advantage of giving prominence to the novel aim of the lawsuit.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 8:20 am

    "; seeking Covid-19 damages." would read very oddly to me, Laura, whether or not contained within a headline.

  4. R said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 9:28 am

    I suppose as a lawyer the meaning of the original headline was pretty clear to me, I see it written that way much of the time.

  5. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 9:52 am

    My reading is that it's the lawsuit that seeks damages. So: "Chinese citizen serves authorities with new lawsuit seeking COVID-19 damages"

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 4:37 pm

    Other American-style possibilities:

    "Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities, Seeks COVID-19 Damages"

    "Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Against Authorities for COVID-19 Damages"

    "Chinese Citizen Sues Authorities for COVID-19 Damages Again After First Suit Dismissed"

    Also, "man" could replace "citizen".

  7. Andrew Usher said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 7:47 pm

    No real ambiguity there in context, but it's still sloppy by the headline writers not to see it.

    And I can't, either, understand the suggestion of a semicolon. I use that punctutation mark probably as much as anyone, but there the grammar-school rule that 'a semicolon joins two things that could be separate sentences' holds good.

    And if we want to be picky, one can't say a lawsuit seeks damages; a person seeks damages by filing a lawsuit! (Still, the first phrasing is OK in context.)

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  8. Bathrobe said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 8:06 pm

    Chinese citizen seeks COVID damages in lawsuit against authorities

  9. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 8:25 pm

    Andrew: It's the lawsuit that specifies what damages are being sought.

    Consider an analogous case:

    "Administration insider writes book alleging corruption"
    "Administration insider alleging corruption writes book"

    To me, the first option says clearly that the allegations are laid out in the book. The second says something different: that allegations have already been made, and landed the insider a book deal.

  10. chris said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 7:55 pm

    @Gregory Kusnick: Interesting point. My first reaction to your first comment was the same as Andrew Usher's: a lawsuit can't seek anything, except by metonymy.

    But in some cases that metonymy can carry a shade of meaning that you couldn't get simply by attributing it to the actual mind behind the action.

    In both book sentences, it's the insider that is actually doing both the writing and the alleging, but I agree that they convey different implications (or should that be implicatures?) about the relationship between the book and the allegations.

    So, in the end, you're both right: a lawsuit can't literally seek damages, but it can still be useful to say it does.

    Therefore, I propose:

    Chinese Citizen Files New Lawsuit Seeking COVID-19 Damages Against Authorities

    This doesn't have the same problem as the original because both the lawsuit *and* the damages are against the authorities.

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