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Finders' Fees Lawsuits

 

Over the years a series of lawsuits were filed in which claimants asked for compensation for discovering Ötzi.

The first lawsuit was filed by Helmut and Erika Simon, who discovered the Iceman's body in 1991. According to Brenda Fowler in her book Iceman, the Simons began to wonder about the possible financial rewards of their find shortly after it occurred. 

Fowler writes:

They had been home less than a week [after discovering the Iceman] when an Innsbruck lawyer called to inform them that he believed they might have some claim to the corpse. At first, the idea struck them as absurd. It was a treasure that belonged to all humanity, and they felt honored to have discovered him. Then again, they thought they should at least inquire. But first they hired another lawyer to deal with the Innsbruck lawyer (p. 56).

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Trial #1

Eventually in January, 2003, the Simons asked a court in Bolzano, Italy, to recognize their role in the Iceman's discovery and declare them the "official discoverers" of the Iceman. 

At the time the lawsuit was filed, their lawyer Rudolf Ramirez said: "My clients are simple, honest folk, lovers of nature, for whom the discovery was probably the most eventful moment of their lives." He continued that his clients would be content "if only a plaque were to go up with their names."

However, there was speculation that the Simons wanted more than a monument, perhaps as much as a 6-figure pay day. And if they won their lawsuit, the Simons would then be entitled to a finders' fee. According to Italian law, this fee is the equivalent of 25 percent of the value of the discovered item. If one considers that Ötzi earns approximately 2.5 million euros a year (about 3.2 million US dollars) in admission fees alone at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (and more in photo rights), 25 percent of Ötzi's value would have been a considerable amount.

Finally, in November, 2003, the Simons were declared the official finders' of Ötzi. Then began the legal wrangling, for, the question remained: how would the value of a 5,300-year-old man be determined? Would it be based on his value as a museum display? Would it be based on a certain timeframe?

By the end of December, 2003, the Simons announced the amount of money they wanted: $300,000. They hoped that officials from the local government province and from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology would agree to a settlement. Instead, government officials appealed the decision.

 

Other Claimants

In October 2005, two other people claimed to have discovered the Iceman first: Slovenian actress Magdalena Mohar Jarc and a Swiss woman named Sandra Nemeth.

Jarc claims to have discovered the Iceman first. She wrote the court that after her discovery,, she went to find someone to take a photo of the corpse. The people she reportedly found to take the photo were the Simons who stole the discovery from her. 

Nemeth wrote the court that she found the Iceman before the Simons and that she got into an argument with the couple about the discovery. Then she spit on Ötzi to make sure that her DNA would be found on the body, thus verifying her claim.

News reports did not indicate why either Jarc or Nemeth waited so long to come forward. Could it have something to do with the money involved? The Iceman brings in big bucks, both to his museum and to the local economy of Bolzano. 

 

Trial #2

Despite the other two claimants' appeal to the court, in June, 2006, the appeals court ruled that the Simons did indeed discover the Iceman and were therefore entitled to a finder's fee. What's more, the court ruled that the provincial government must also pay the Simons' legal fees. The victory was perhaps bittersweet, in that Mr. Simon has died in 2004.

Despite the law, government officials still insisted that they would pay no more than €50,000 (about $65,000). The Simons' lawyer argued that the Iceman earned a considerable amount of money for the provincial government both in admissions fees at the museum and in money brought in from tourism; they believed that they were entitled to a larger sum. Again, they hoped for some type of settlement.

Although they asked a finder's fee of about $300,000, their request  was apparently reduced after the June, 2006, finding to €150,000 (about $195,000). However, the provincial government responded that the high expenses it had incurred to establish a museum and maintain the Iceman's preservation should be considered when determining the finder's fee; therefore, they maintained that a reduced fee was justified. According to one official, "One has to consider that we have borne all the expense of exploiting the find." Of course, Mrs. Simon saw things differently.

 

Trial #3

Instead of working out a settlement, local officials decided in September, 2006, to make one final appeal, this time to Italy's highest court, the Cassation Court. 

On August 26, 2008, the provincial council of Bolzano apparently offered Erika Simon a settlement amount of €100,000 (approximately $150,000).  

On September 27, 2008, the lawyer for Helmut Simon's estate announced that a payment for a six-figure sum would be made by the end of October 2008. 

At the end of September 2008, the lawyer representing Erika Simon (and Helmut Simon's estate) announced that the lawsuit between the Simons and the Bolzano provincial goverment was over. The lawyer stated that a six-figure (150,000 euros or approximately $208,000 USD at the time) settlement of the lawsuit would be paid to Erika Simon in a public ceremony by the end of October 2008. That didn't happen as the provincial government of Bolzano apparently dragged its feet and resisted the settlement.

On June 15, 2009, however, government authorities announced that they would pay the €150,000 fee to Erika Simon.