San Jose State chemistry professor Dan Straus had something in common with his father and his father’s buddy: all were academics. Straus’s father was a renown mathematician, and his dad’s buddy a theoretical physicist. You might have heard of the physicist, his name was Albert Einstein. When Straus’s father died, he bequeathed him a set of handwritten documents authored by Einstein, which Straus kept in his weekend cabin in Henry Coe State Park. In 2007, a huge fire raged through the park, destroying Straus’s cabin and all of its contents, including the papers.
The fire, it was later learned, was started by a former schoolteacher who, with her family, owned property nearby, and who left unattended a barrel she used to burn paper plates. In addition to destroying Straus’s cabin, three other residences were destroyed.
Strauss brought a property damage lawsuit against the teacher and her family, alleging they were negligent in starting the fire, and that they should compensate Straus for the loss of the irreplaceable documents. The question at trial was, what are the papers worth? After expert testimony on the value of the documents, and no doubt Straus’s testimony about the paper’s connection to his own father, the jury awarded him $750,000.