Who's to Blame?
by Stephen Phillips
Several years ago there was an incident in the U.S. that really made me sit up and think just how preposterously stupid the personal injury litigation system has become. This infamous incident involved an elderly lady, a well-known fast food joint, and a cup of coffee.
Not wishing to bore you with all the gory details, I shall summarize:
The dear old lady had hopped into to her 1979 "Daddy O'Lack" and headed off to get a burger and a cup of java. Not wishing to miss her weekly bridge get-together, she opted to utilize the convenience of the drive-through window.
Unaware that fate was about to deal her a bum hand, she drove up to the window to place her order, and as swiftly as a greyhound fleeing from a North Korean butcher, her meal materialized. Dutifully she drove around to the pickup window, paid for her goodies, and got ready to hit the highway.
It was at this point that the gods of litigation intervened.
Not quite able to multi-task and handle both driving and consumption of food products at the same time, she placed the steaming hot cup of Colombian finest between her thighs. She then proceeded to pull out of the establishments parking lot, where she was suddenly forced to execute a rather swift braking maneuver to avoid a collision with another customer who was also eager to get back on the road.
Now, for all you science buffs out there, I shall refer to Newton's third law of motion: "For each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. " As she applied pressure to the brake pedal, with her legs clamped together like Suzanne Sommers' demonstrating the Thigh Master, the resulting reaction was that the paper cup collapsed quicker than Enron shares--spilling the scalding hot beverage over her thighs, and inflicting some rather nasty burns.
Initially one thinks to oneself, What a terrible thing to happen to this poor old dear. One is reminded of the immortal words of a former President of the U.S., "I feel your pain."
Well, I certainly felt something when it transpired that this seemingly harmless pensioner decided to sue the fast food joint for a multi-million dollar sum, claiming that the companys negligence in serving coffee hot enough to scald the skin was what had gotten her burned, rather than antyhing she had done to herself!
Okay, youre thinking to yourself that no self-respecting legal eagle would take on a case based so obviously on plain stupidity on the part of the complainant. Not so. There was a flurry of legal activity to take this case, and sure enough, it went to trial.
The most amazing thing about this was that the litigant was seeking damages well in excess of anything most people would consider a reasonable amount for pain and suffering. Regardless of the fact that it was not, in any commonsense way, the fault of the restaurant, but simply carelessness on the part of the customer, the woman won her case. The fast food joint had to shell out a considerable amount of cash, and as part of the settlement, agreed that in the future, the temperature of coffee served in their establishments would be lowered--just in case some other bozo decided to splash it liberally all over his or her legs.
Okay, you might say, maybe this is one of those one-offs that manage to make it to court through a quirk in the legal system. But you would be mistaken. This is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to people being rewarded for their own stupidity and negligence.
If you are lucky enough to own a Winnebago, have a detailed look at the instruction manual. In there, you will find a chapter that tells the owner of said vehicle not to leave it in cruise control and go walk about in the back. The reason for this is that (you guessed it) someone was actually stupid enough to do this.
Upon emerging from the wreck of his Winnebago, he sued the manufacturers, claiming that because they had not specifically informed him that cruise control meant he could not leave the vehicle driverless, it was their fault. He received a brand-new vehicle, and the company had to reprint their owner's manual to include the stupidity clause.
In essence, it seems that the more advanced we become as a species, the less we have to actually think about the consequences of our actions. Therefore, by a process of deduction, the stupider we are, the greater the reward.
Come on now, there is a very good reason why we have a brain, and it's not just to hold our ears apart--it's to think with! So before rushing headlong into some activity that has an element of risk to it (for example, blow drying your hair) think, Should I really do this while standing up to my knees in a tub of water? Probably not.
--Then again, if you do manage to survive the electric shock, you can always sue your parents for not having taught you that water and electricity can be a dangerous combination.
(c) COPYRIGHT 2002 STEPHEN PHILLIPS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.