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Ridiculous History: The Woman Who Once Was a Cabdriver's Worst Nightmare


London cabdrivers would hastily scatter when they saw Caroline Giacometti Prodgers. Getty
London cabdrivers would hastily scatter when they saw Caroline Giacometti Prodgers. Getty

Caroline Giacometti Prodgers was a wealthy woman living comfortably in London during the late 19th century. She enjoyed many of the usual pastimes of women in the Victorian era, with one notable exception: She loved to terrorize the cabdrivers of London.

Prodgers wasn't just mean-spirited in her treatment to them; that was merely the way she ended her encounters with them, taunting them into insulting her. Over two decades, she successfully sued more than 50 cabdrivers. Here's how: Since there were no meters, fares were based on location and distance, and Prodgers dedicated herself to memorizing every fare at every distance. 

"The cabman does not live that can deceive this lady. She has an eye for distance which might be envied by Count Moltke on the field of battle, or by Captain Ross on Wimbledon-commons."
The Pall Mall Budget, Oct. 23, 1874

If a cabdriver took her even a single yard farther than her intended destination and attempted to charge her for it, she'd heartily protest the increased fare. Soon threats of lawsuits would be flying through the air, and she might also charge the cabby with verbal abuse. Often, both parties would wind up in court.

There's no documentation that says why she decided to make this her hobby, but it was a habit supported by her friend, the famed explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, writes Heather Tweed in the Public Domain Review. He encouraged her in her cab-terrorizing endeavors and even gave her legal advice when he wasn't exploring the world.

The cabbies quite understandably hated dealing with her. When she'd approach the cabstand, they'd warn each other, shouting "Mother Prodgers!" as they fled. That wasn't the end of the displays of their displeasure with her. One cabdriver was arrested after burning Prodgers in effigy at a celebration one night. The judge in that case ended up throwing out those particular charges, though many other charges against the cabbies stuck.

We talked to Braden Perry, a litigation, regulatory and government investigations attorney with Kansas City-based Kennyhertz Perry LLC., about these sorts of lawsuits, and he told us there's a legal term for people like Prodgers.

"She is a 'vexatious litigant.'" Perry says via email. "It is a litigant who sues, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action.

"Courts frown on vexatious litigants. Most of the time, litigants would be deterred by the filing fees alone. But now, many courts have a vexatious litigant list. If you fall on this list, courts may require preauthorization from a judge before filing, additional fees/costs, and heightened pleading requirements."

Prodgers didn't just aim her litigious ire at cabdrivers, though. She sued her own cook once, as well as a newspaper publisher, her husband, a watchmaker and others.

For the benefit of the world over, Prodgers' efforts against cabbies ended with good news. Efforts like this and from others eventually led to the installation of meters in cabs, a system still largely in place today. The law to bring metering to cabs was first considered in London in 1890, the year of her death.

"Today, such behavior likely would not lead to meaningful regulation," Perry tells us. "Today, consumer protection is abundantly available, and it would be much easier and cheaper to use the government, such as contacting a district attorney, attorney general, consumer protection bureau, or regulator to affect change to an unfair policy or action."

Prodgers' obituary, as reported in papers across the world, was succinct in its disdain for her behavior. "Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead," the obituary read. "Her habit was to drive the fullest possible distance for the money, pay the exact legal fare, and then cause the arrest of the cabman for expressing his feelings."

And that was really all there was to say.