It all started back in 1992. Well, in truth it probably started long before that, but it first came onto my radar in 1992 when 79-year-old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ms. Liebeck placed the cup of hot coffee between her knees as she removed the lid in order to add cream and sugar. At that point, she spilled the coffee in her lap, her cotton sweatpants held the heat, and as a result she suffered severe burns requiring skin grafts. Now, lest you think I am heartless, I feel very badly for Ms. Liebeck. However, it seems to me that she should have been more careful and that the incident was her fault alone. However, Ms. Liebeck hired an attorney and sued McDonalds, claiming “gross negligence” for selling coffee that was “unreasonably dangerous” and “defectively manufactured”. When the case came to trial two years later, the jury found that McDonald’s was 80% responsible for the incident and Liebeck was only 20% at fault. The jury awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages and another $160,000 in compensatory damages. The judge reduced the punitive damages and ultimately the case was settled for something less than $600,000. Still, that is a heck of a lot of money for the woman’s own carelessness.
The long-term results of the above case are that restaurants have added printed warnings to their cups, thereby making the cup more expensive, a cost passed along to ‘We the Consumers’. Also, this case seems to have opened the doors for a multitude of other frivolous lawsuits. Here are a few headlines, to give you an idea:
8-year-old New York Boy is Sued by His Aunt for a “Careless” Hug
Pennsylvania Nursing Student Fails a Course Twice and Sues the School for Not Helping With Anxiety
Colorado Inmate is Suing the NFL for $88 Billion Over the 2015 Cowboy’s Playoff Loss
Florida Woman is Suing FedEx for Tripping Over a Package Left at Her Doorstep
Missouri Woman is Claiming Injury From a Flying Dinner Roll
Workman Puts Ladder in Manure, Slips, Sues Ladder Company
Man in Phone Booth Hit by Drunk Driver, Sues Phone Company
I could fill 100 pages and still not capture them all. Sure, we shake our heads and laugh when we read these things. But we also pay a price for these ridiculous lawsuits. First, if a company loses a lawsuit to the tune of a few million dollars, they will pass that cost along to their customers. Even if they do not lose, there are legal fees and the cost of lost time involved that will, again, be passed along in the form of higher product or service costs. Second, in order to protect themselves against future lawsuits of the same nature, companies will either alter their product or provide disclaimer notices, both of which cost the company money, and that cost will be passed along to ‘We the Consumers’. Take a look at your hairdryer, electric razor or curling iron … you will notice a label on the cord, cautioning you not to take it into the bath or shower. If you have purchased something that came in a plastic bag recently, look at the bag … it will have a warning not to let small children play with the bag, that the bag poses a risk of suffocation. Really? Wow, thanks for telling me, because apparently I was to bloomin’ stupid to know these things!
There seems to be a mentality in this country that if there is something wrong in your life, somebody must be to blame, and you should sue them. We need to wake up and take responsibility for our own actions, rather than looking around us trying to find somebody else at whom we can point the finger.
Speaking of fingers … I once chopped the tip of my finger off while chopping celery, but I did not sue the farmer who grew the celery, nor the manufacturer of the knife! I was careless, plain and simple. Interestingly, as I was writing this post the mail came. Flipping through it, I found a “Class Action Settlement Notice” advising me that “If you bought McAfee or Intel Security software between January 10, 2010 and February 10, 2015, you may be entitled to benefits from a class action settlement.” In reading the fine print, apparently some people were not happy about the auto-renewal feature, so they filed suit. Now McAfee is offering to reimburse everyone who uses the auto-renewal $11.50. So, for simply filing a form online, I can receive $11.50. Now, I am a penny-pincher, however I am an honest penny-pincher, and I can honestly say I have never had a problem with the auto-renewal of my McAfee account, in fact it keeps me from forgetting to pay it and experiencing a lapse in service. So no, I will not be requesting a refund. However, I’m pretty sure that next year the cost of my McAfee subscription will increase by a dollar or more to cover the cost of everyone else collecting their $11.50!.