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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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In a street in Águeda, Portugal, hundreds of colorful umbrella give comforting shade and a cool view to passers by. They can be found of several streets during the month of July and they are quite astounding in their simplistic beauty. Besides that, they are way too impressive to leave un-photographed!

Credits for the photos go to Patricia Almeida and Diana Tavares.

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This is Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho, Porto Alegre, Brazil. It is a street in the city of Porto Alegre that is lined on both sides with large, spectacular trees. Not only do they look especially impressive when driving or walking through the street, but from above, they look as if a mass of forest lost its way and situated itself right in the middle of the city!

Porto Alegre is the 10th most populous city in Brazil, and it is one of the most important cultural and economic centers in the country. This street is definitely not a centerpiece in the large and diverse city, however, it is quite the impressive and unique sight and a favorite among photographers visiting Porto Alegre.

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This is Burano, Italy. It is a small village situated on the Venetian Lagoon in northern Italy. Burano is well known for its exceptional, brightly colored houses. The colors of the houses are based on a specific system that has been in place since the village’s founding. If one wishes to paint his home, one must send a request to the government, which responds by making a note of the certain colors permitted for that specific lot of houses.

I stepped hurriedly onto the late bus, with eyes weary and somber . They had been glued together into apathy by the Sunday night haze that had followed me well into this Monday morning. The chill of the grayness outside seemed to be pushed in with me as people scurried left and right on the gum-dotted pavement. They were clothed in blue by the bright light of a Citi Bank logo that shown bright in my watery eyes.

I made my way to the very back and took a seat in the leftmost corner of the bus. A row of hats and balded heads caught my eye as I sat. Then back I was to observing the littered floor of the bus. I looked up and leaned my head on the side of the bus window. Between my lazied morning eyelids I could make out the slender figure of a girl make her way on the bus just as the doors closed.

Wow, she looks nice. Maybe she will sit with me. Is my hair all right? Pat, pat, pat. Yeah it looks OK. Let me pretend not to have noticed her, it’ll up my cool, am I right? I turned my glance to the cars going by outside.

Just then, a large sliding at my right reminded me I already had a companion, a large, balding gentlemen who took out a book in Spanish and began reading. The girl ended up sitting with her back to a window, diagonal from me.

I sighed. Oh come on. I’m so unlucky all the time. Time? Time. Time! What time is it? Damn, 7:40 already. Late again. I nipped a bit at my thumb nail. This week is going to suck I thought. Four exams, and I haven’t even started studying for any yet. I won’t get time to do anything but school work this week. Man, life sucks. I pressed by cheek on the bus window.

The bus had stopped at a red light and through the tinted glass of a dented and grayed, decade-old Chevy Malibu I could make out a young face. A man bit his lips as he puckered them slowly at the thin air. He stared intently at his hands on the steering wheel, and then at the glare of the red light on his car’s hood, and back.

He seems to have it worse. His eyes are emitting worry like lasers. I’m probably complaining about nothing. Who’s to say a couple of tests are more important than some of the things other people have to go through. Gahh, people are dying of hunger in the world Bruno, get your crap together.

The bus had started moving again. I turned my head back to the girl, but not so much to her face, as to her feet. I was afraid she’d notice I was looking at her. I focused on her clean, leather flats. I rose my eyes a bit, following her tight black jeans to her knees and then to her waist. On her belt was a large skull she had for a buckle.

Well I wasn’t expecting that. I leaned back on the window with my eyes still on her, and like a lighthouse on shore I gave a quick scope around the bus, so she wouldn’t suspect I was looking at her. At each turn I got a quick glimpse of her thick eye makeup and her hair which fell loosely on her shoulders and around her breasts. It had a long, thick stripe of green on it that pierced my eye in a manner inexplicable.

Woaw. What made her want to do that to her hair? It probably would look nicer naturally. Oh well. Who am I to know what goes on in a girls head? I can barely figure out what they’re saying when they’re talking to me. Still she looks so pretty. Oh well, I probably won’t see her again and my life will go on, as boring as ever.

I turned my glance outside. Hot damn, is that a horse on a car! What the hell? Oh, its just a large cabinet tied to the top. I snickered. Wow, I have a short attention span. Did anyone notice I just laughed to myself? I looked around, as if I had been caught with my hand in a cookie jar. Nope, no one.

I kept looking outside. I looked at everything and nothing at the same time. I couldn’t quite focus on any single thing because I kept thinking about how tired I was. Suddenly I was struck with the thick blur of trees. They looked like they were mocking me. They never get tired. Haha. Oh how much I would love to be a tree I thought. No responsibilities, no fatigue and plenty of friends around you all the time. 

I kept my eyes outside. Wow I think about stupid things. I wonder why. Why; it’s a word that opens up so many worlds. Why? Like why do I always have to be tired? Why do I have 4 exams this week? Why does that girl have a skull on her buckle? Why has this large man next to me been on the same page of his book for the past 20 minutes? Why does his perfume smell like wood? Why is this bus so dirty? Why am I so late to class all the time? Why am I asking why? Why do we even exist?

The bus was almost at my stop, the last stop on the route, and the girl and just about everyone else had left already. I looked around at the ugly seats and the dirty windows. It was like I owned this bus; this stupid, disgusting bus that never smells right and never comes on time.

And, though I had gone through a spur of profound thought as my head had rested on that window, all I could think about as I stepped off the bus was how damn cold it was outside.

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School, grades,work, lateness, fatigue. These are all things that produce stress, an they have become a definitive part of our modern-day culture; a culture that is pervasive in the cities. Even when relaxing on a bus, we cannot help but be haunted by the problems in our lives and sometimes we cannot see that they do not define who we are. Yet, to push them out of our minds we think about anything and everything else, maybe even with a bus window aiding our very souls.