“You didn’t warn me the grill would be hot!” and Other Stupid Reasons People Sue

I was surprised to find out that a warning label on an electric skillet reads, “Caution: griddle surface may be hot during and after cooking.” See, I thought I had a reason figured out for the whole thing; as in: why that label would need to be there? I found out I was wrong.

As anyone knows, if a skillet is not hot during cooking, it is either a magical skillet, or it isn’t functioning. The real reason the label is on the skillet is likely because somebody sued because they felt entitled to be warned that a cooking surface would be hot. At first glance, this might very well be one of the stupider reasons to sue, however, lawsuits like this are filed on a daily basis.

Among freedom, apple pie, and a few other things, America is also known for people the most lawsuit-happy nation on Earth. An estimated 15 million lawsuits were filed in the year of 2011, or about one lawsuit every two seconds. There are also more lawyers in America than in any other country in the world.

Now, this may not seem to be of any significance to anyone who accepts the exceptionalism of the United States legal system, however, in actuality the American addiction to lawsuits has become a growing problem. Lawsuits have turned from a method to secure civil rights to a method to secure liability checks, no matter the ridiculousness of the case at hand. Tort litigation, the handling of cases dealing with civil wrongs, has hit   $250 billion in the U.S. That’s the equivalent to 2.2 percent of GDP and roughly $838 per person, according to Towers Watson.

When a company does something wrong, it should be held accountable for its actions. However, many companies are being put into court and sued to the tunes of millions of dollars having done nothing particularly wrong, and the American legal system is allowing it to occur. Lawsuit abuse has become a serious problem.

People sue for anything and everything they even feel they have a slim chance of winning. For an explanation why, let’s take the electric razor which warns, “Never use while sleeping.” The reason the razor has such a ridiculous warning label is because someone used the razor while asleep and felt the need to sue because he/she hadn’t been warned of the obvious.

Now, considering that hiring a team of lawyers and having them defend the product in court would cost the razor company upwards of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, the razor company simply secedes and pays the person suing a check. This occurs on a daily basis throughout the country.

To try and avoid lawsuits like this, companies rack on the warning labels. “We think that the three foot step ladder may be an endangered species because its not long enough to put all the warning labels on,” said one person.

Consider a different example of a physical therapist who was tragically paralyzed in 2004 after she pulled a piece of exercise equipment onto herself. The Cybex leg extension machine that fell on her was not faulty or dangerous, but rather the woman had used it the wrong way. Despite the fact that she was the one at fault, she took Cybex to court and got a 65 million dollar settlement and set the company back in several millions more in legal fees. Those millions could have gone to something useful, like business expansion or product development, and instead they are pocketed by someone in a genuinely ridiculous legal case.

In the American system, even if you win, you lose, because legal fees to defend a case end up costing more than the settlement at hand.

The sort of environment of fear that has been created by the legal system of America around inventors and businesses has taken its toll on the country. For example, about 27% of all medical insurance spending is lost to tort litigation. All of this extra spending is not being absorbed by the big companies, because they are being pushed onto consumers. Everyday things, like silverware, ladders, or even pillows are more expensive because the companies that make them have to first make sure they hire a team of lawyers to handle their warning labels. This is lest they want to be sued for million for not explaining a fork should not be sat on, or any other intellectual equivalent.

Small entrepreneurs are thus discouraged from even trying to bring a product to market, because they will be sued for not having the amount of money to secure a lack of legal liability. Considering even large companies sometimes cannot do this, small businesses surely won’t be able to either.

This is especially true considering many law firms even higher “inspectors,” who check products and places of business for legal “wrongs” for the lawyers. To think these practices occur in the American legal system is seriously jaw-dropping. For example, a fishing lure has the warning label, “Harmful if swallowed.” Considering fish cannot read, the only explanation for such a label is because the fish-hook’s lawyers basically said something along the lines of, “Put the warning on there, or you’re going to be sued.”

In the end, considering there are cases that do end up being defended, and the jurors decide the verdict. Yet, these jurors are usually confronted between defending a lone person and a large, extensive company. Many times the jurors vote against the latter, feeling they are “sticking it to the man,” when in truth, they are making a foolishly calculated decisions that strike fear into the hearts and wallets of entrepreneurs, and indirectly, into those of consumers like themselves.

I am not somehow asserting that all of these legal decisions are wrong. In fact, I appreciate that the United States has a simple process by which we can protect our civil liberties. However, something has to be done to stop the absolute ease by which people can get away, with money in hand, following unreasonable lawsuits. Any sort of tort reform would likely lead to an economic boost and a general lowering of the prices of manufactured goods, and this is what needs to be looked at if America wants its legal system to be more legitimate.


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