A Warning Label Rant: Crazy Lawsuits

Frivolous Lawsuits Are More Than A Funny Story

Photo credit: alexlmx 2018

WARNING! The following is a rant that some may find either deeply offensive, mildly amusing, or maybe even slightly arousing...or irritating...or sickening…’ insert any adjective or feeling that you caught here.’

The Wikipedia definition of ‘’Warning Label”:

A warning label is a label attached to an item, or contained in an item's instruction manual, warning the user about risks associated with the use of the item, and may include restrictions by the manufacturer or seller on certain uses. Most of them are placed to limit civil liability in lawsuits against the item's manufacturer or seller. That sometimes results in labels which, for some people, seem to state the obvious.

Before I get thoroughly carried away, please understand that there is a need for “Warning Labels,” especially for OSHA, Medical, Construction, Biohazards, etc. I do not expect to see them on things like….the infamous McDonald’s coffee suit ‘Caution Hot Beverage.’

Caution: Hot Beverage!

The reason why coffee cups state the obvious passage “HOT BEVERAGE” stems from the notorious Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants trial of 1994. An accidental coffee spill almost granted Stella Liebeck $3 million. No, she did not get the $3 million; the judge overruled the jury and gave her $640,000. That’s not exactly couch cushion money, but people remember the millions.

The 70+ year-old woman had ordered a coffee and, after receiving the coffee, parked in a car with the coffee securely fastened between her legs. The driver of the car had parked in the parking lot so Ms. Liebeck could put creamer in her coffee. Becoming the victim in a situation she created, the coffee spilled across her lap, resulting in 3rd-degree burns. New skin had to be grafted to her thighs.

Her lawyers (yes, plural) argued that Mcdonald’s was aware of the problem (the problem being that they served hot coffee). The lawyers indicated the coffee was served too hot at a scorching 180 degrees. Coffee is drinkable at 120-145 degrees per their review. This lawsuit opened the door for frivolous lawsuits at ridiculous costs to companies AND their consumers.

The war on common sense, accountability, and blame-shifting had begun. Apparently, it is acceptable to stumble around, unaware of your surroundings, and put yourself in harmful situations. A demonstrated lack of common sense allows you to get on a stand and falsely admit a disconnect between your brain and reality so someone else can pay for the consequences of your actions. Or at least that is the message that was heard by a vast population. Playing an ass pays off. Let’s break this down.

The Breakdown

I am confident that Ms. Liebeck, being in her 70s, had come in contact with hot coffee throughout her life. I am positive that she had also made hot coffee herself and had previously suffered through a coffee burn a time or two.

I am sure that she requested to stop the car to put the creamer into the hot coffee because the coffee was, indeed, hot. Ms. Liebeck would have a lifetime of hot coffee experience, making her hot coffee knowledge and handling skills on the upper end of legendary. But that did not matter.

What mattered was McDonald’s did not provide information on the cup, informing consumers that the coffee was hot. A warning label was not attached with this information about their product despite the consumer’s extensive experience with that particular product.

Now, I am not unsympathetic to Ms. Liebeck’s mishap. But, that is what it was, a mishap. The employee did not pour the coffee on her; she spilled it on herself even with the extensive precautions she took in securely locking the cup between her legs and stopping the car.

Both actions are a strong indication she knew the coffee would be hot and didn’t want to burn herself, demonstrating she was aware of the consequences. Indeed, the smart business route would be for McDonald’s to offer to pay for half of the medical bills and lost wages for Ms. Liebeck. Wait, are there wages at 70+? Not likely.

The overindulgence in rewarding people for making poor decisions encourages people not to take responsibility for their actions. Rewarding bad behavior is a contradiction of good judgment skills based on a lifetime of experience.

This affects every single one of us as the cost of the lesson is unceremoniously passed down to the consumer with inflated prices on goods and services. The fear of litigation cost is the incentive for asset protection measures, including warning labels that state the obvious.

Ridiculous Warning Labels

Society is saturated with warning labels on every product imaginable. Some, if not most, of these labels are created from lawsuits, just like the above case. Since there are so many frivolous common-sense labels, the population overwhelmingly DOES NOT read them, defeating the purpose. Let me tell you, you don’t know what you are missing if you aren’t reading these things. Here are a few choice passages from warning labels:

Hairdryers: are dangerous if you use them in your sleep. Who the hell can sleep with that racket going? This warning label was meant for the bonnet-style dryers that go over your head and poof up like JiffyPop on a hot burner. My grandma had one of these devices, and I used it as a sauna room for my Barbies.

Sun Shields: blast us with the warning not to drive while the shield is in place. Mario Kart trained me for this moment.

Eggs: let us know that this product may contain ‘eggs.’ Well, I hope the hell it does.

Peanuts: saw that eggs were trending and decided they should let us know that the product may contain peanuts. Well, isn’t that nukin futz.

The Vanishing Fabric Marker: should not be used to sign checks or legal documents. Divorces would be much more fun, party poopers.

Sleeping Pills: may cause drowsiness. I would be extremely disappointed if they didn’t.

Scooters: this product moves while in use. I think the wheels would have given that little nugget of info away, Captain Obvious.

Birthday Candles: should not be used as earplugs or any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity. Well, there goes the party, Debbie Downer.

Cell Phones: don’t dry in the microwave. Are we supposed to eat it cold? Oh wait, the other warning is not to eat. Yes, it has both.

Fishing Hooks: harmful if swallowed. Do the fish know?

Male Enhancement Pill: don’t use while pregnant or nursing. Is that even possible? I would pay money to see a male go through labor with a stiffy.

Children’s Cough Syrup: be careful when operating heavy machinery or driving. Don’t let that kid drive his Tonka truck back to the construction site.

Washing Machines & Dryers: don’t put a person inside this machine. Little sisters all over the world just sighed in relief.

Superman Costume: must remind us that this costume will not give us the ability to fly or stop bullets. Way to kill our dreams, boss.

All of these warning labels are TRUE. You just can’t make this kind of stuff up.

If you don’t consider labels like this an insult to humanity’s intelligence and basic survival skills, your faith in humanity is lower than mine, and you are truly dead inside. You lucky bugger. Have we reached a point that honor is submissive to greed, and greed has trumped fairness and justice?

Companys Are Scared Of Us

These labels are put there for the protection of the company from us, the consumer. I have to say; I am more than a little put-off by the fact that people are willing to sell their intelligence for cash rather than using it to further the human race in whatever capacity they are able.

The problem with Companys having to protect themselves from consumers is that it drives prices up. Lawyers and expert staff are paid to guess what frivolous lawsuits people will sue them for, and paying these exorbitant fees raises cost to the consumer. We are biting our nose to spite our face. To simplify it further, we are treated like children because we act like children.

Not all of us, but judging by the number of frivolous lawsuits pushed through the legal system every year, too many of us. Here are a few facts:

  • 40 million frivolous lawsuits are filed every year

  • There are over one million lawyers

  • Tort costs are about $589 billion every year

Predator-attorneys take frivolous lawsuits and abuse the legal system by filing motions where everyone is forced to join. These predator-attorneys get rich on the public dime through legal extortion. It is the client (the consumer that made a common-sense mistake and saw an opportunity to cash in for some unthought-of sentence on a warning label) that perpetuates this scheme.

Frivolous lawsuits were weighing down the court system in Florida so severely that the federal court took matters into their own hands and issued a 148-page warning and $9.1 million fine on Florida firms that brought meritless suits in front of the court.

Making it out on the other side of a frivolous lawsuit, whether the company wins or loses, means a significant cost to both the company and the public. Smaller businesses usually won’t survive. Frivolous lawsuits kill the American Dream. This country was built on the innovation of the entrepreneurial spirit and the freedom to achieve the dream.

Frivolous Lawsuits Kill Small Business

There is a case that was brought against a small dry cleaner often used as the prime example of a frivolous lawsuit. In 2005, a gentleman named Pearson sued a small family dry cleaning company for mistakenly sending his pants to a third party for cleaning, which left Pearson without his trousers for five days.

Pearson, who also happened to be an administrative law judge, refused to accept the pants after the delayed arrival claiming that the pants were not the original ones he left at the cleaner. He demanded $1,000 for a pair of pants.

Now Gucci does sell a pair of jeans for $1,250 over at Saks Fifth Avenue and Armani trousers will set you back about $600 on average, but the average salary for a law judge in DC is around $59,000, and I am 90% certain these pants were not of that caliber. The dry cleaner rightly refused.

Pearson filed a lawsuit against the dry cleaner in excess of $67 million for the pants and for what he called: inconvenience, discomfort, mental distress, and attorney fees. His argument was based on two signs prominently displayed at the dry cleaners, which read:

  1. Same Day Service; and

  2. Satisfaction Guaranteed

The dry cleaner recognized that they were facing the forced defense and lengthy trial with mounting attorney fees and publicity that could damage their reputation. Despite the absolute unreasonable demands from the disgruntled judge, they offered settlements on three separate occasions in the amounts of:

  1. $3,000

  2. $4,600

  3. $12,000

Which Pearson promptly rejected. I feel I need to repeat it. This is a pair of pants that were 5 days late and may or may not have been his original pants. I realize it is inconvenient and frustrating when someone makes a mistake, but GTFO with this noise.

The judge overseeing the case did rule in favor of the dry cleaner, and Pearson, a judge, was sanctioned $12,000 for creating unnecessary litigation. However, by the time the case was decided, the dry cleaner had to close his doors because of the trial’s costs both mentally and monitarily, over a pair of pants.

The case made national news as the epitome of frivolous lawsuits. Pearson did lose his job after he lost the case. So, Pearson ended up being another casualty of frivolous lawsuits, and I am confident he experienced what real mental stress is with no job and a $12,000 fine to pay.

The reality of the situation is each frivolous case brought to a small business doorstep costs an average of $100,000 to defend. Facing exorbitant pending litigation costs force settlements rather than going to court, and most predator-attorneys and clients exploit that knowledge and capitalize on it.

Small business owners generally offer 10% of their salary in settlement to avoid the higher price of litigation. Even with savvy asset protection measures and disclaimers to the public, our society is overwhelmingly litigation prone.

Tort Reform With Checks & Balances

One of the primary functions of a legal system is that parties who have a legitimate grievance can come forward to have the dispute resolved as amicable as possible, with the plaintiff being made whole—not enriched—made whole.

Thus restoring the faith that the justice system operates fairly, even if both parties walk away unhappy - they walk away being able to continue their way of life and appreciate the finality of the decision. Ideally, everyone can move on without lengthy trials and months of anguish and stress.

A significant amount of the population seeks enrichment and the easy dollar over justice. That is the truth of the matter and what the statistics show. It is sad, but the disappointing thing is that trained professionals, i.e., attorneys, do not feel compelled to temper the outlandish allegations and requests of their clients for exorbitant monetary compensation - they encourage it.

The American Bar Association attempts to elevate and maintain the profession’s integrity through codes of conduct that do mention cases having merits and several other bits of solid advice. There are excellent attorneys in this world, and there is a definite need for the profession; however, over one million lawyers competing for clients leads to cases being taken and glorified in the hopes of hefty settlements that shouldn’t have been entertained.

Several politicians have latched on to the public outcry for tort reform, but because there are so many moving parts, change is slow, if it happens at all. There is no easy answer to accomplish tort reform, although it is a point of contention among the population and every branch in our government - that’s a lot of red tape and many opinions. The good news is we already have the resources to improve if we were so inclined.

Justice League

Yes, the geek in me loves this title, but it fits the definition of what I am suggesting. The natural flow of things is that when someone is wronged and has an unresolved grievance, they go to an attorney who then files the suit and serves the defendant, and puts the lawsuit in motion.

On the other side of the coin, companies and small businesses are paying considerable sums of money to staff and professionals to protect their assets and think up every ridiculous disclaimer that could come true while using their product. They then pass these fees onto the consumer. Many businesses even have to pay a fee to state institutions that advocate keeping an eye on state legislation.

For example, when I owned my collection business (an industry fraught with legislation and litigation), I had to pay an average of $2,000 a year to the Financial Institutions Division for legal fees that they incurred fighting legislation that they viewed harmful to the industry. Every collection agency in the state paid this fee. We did not have control or say, the commitment was automatically attached to renewing our collection license.

So, my line of thinking for the plaintiff and defendant to meet in the middle is creating a Justice League panel. There are more than enough attorneys in the world to support this action. The panel would sit 3 attorneys, 2 trained mediators, 2 consumers, and 2 business owners. This panel would be the Justice League.

What separates the Justice League from agencies like the Better Business Bureau or mediation firms is that they would have the power to:

  • Hear the grievance

  • Mediate the dispute

  • Settle the dispute through dismissal, agreement, or forced resolution

  • Enforce the outcome and remedy with finality

  • All within 30 days

So, when an attorney took on a client that had a grievance with a company or small business in the community, the attorney would immediately file a Grievance Submission to the Justice League, who would schedule a hearing with the parties involved within 30 days. Or, a consumer could skip the attorney and file it on their own.

A mandatory filing fee would fund the Justice League from the plaintiff of $500 and $500 annually from small businesses and companies with their annual license. Why would small businesses and companies pay this?

  • Diffuses the situation with an immediate hearing date

  • Does not prolong the process

  • Can avoid attorney fees and costly litigation

  • Does not face closure or loss of all assets for unreasonable monetary compensation

  • Faith that the resolution will be fair and just

The Justice League will work under the guidelines of making the person whole that filed the grievance if a genuine grievance exists. It will look at what the company offered to remedy the grievance. It will determine the amount of the loss both in material and reasonable inconvenience. For example, the replacement cost of a pair of pants with an inconvenience fee of $20 each day the owner was without his pants - 5 days. This is what is reasonable.

Cases for the Justice League would be limited to disputes without a claim of physical harm. Most frivolous lawsuits center around inconvenience and wounded pride, not physical harm. Those cases would need to remain with the powers that be.

Get Over It

Emotional distress is exaggerated in today’s world. Losing your pants for 5 days is about a 2 on a scale of 10 for annoyance and inconvenience. Don’t get me wrong; some cases warrant mental anguish and are much larger in scope than what our Justice League would be able to review.

The ‘I’m suing everybody’ flex has to stop. Enrichment should be gained from our abilities and merit, not by taking advantage of companies’ willingness to settle to save their business.

Accountability for your actions is a cornerstone of being an adult. We are teaching younger generations what is acceptable. Raise the next generation to see the value in noble characteristics that elevate a civilization. Getting a quick buck in exchange for your virtue devalues us all.

There is supposed to be equal protection under the law. Frivolous lawsuits violate those protections by creating doubt in a fair justice system, inflating costs to limit consumer purchasing power, destroys core virtues of society, and extinguishes the American dream. But, we do get those awesome warning labels.

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