Monday, November 5, 2007

Eggnog and Other Dangers of Modern Life

We see above a picture I scanned from a newspaper showing kindergartners at a local school digging into some kind of "rock" constructed from flour, searching for hidden treasure it seems. I got a big kick out of the idea they needed to be wearing eye protection.

One thing Sue keeps saying is "How did we as kids ever survive?" Surely the kinds of risks our parents exposed us to just letting us go outside to play would peg them today as child abusers. How exactly did we ever develop into a society where our kids must live in a risk-free world? Who decided this and how did society become so intense about enforcing this notion?

Certainly one of the culprits is our Tort system. You have to expect defensive behavior in a world where anyone might sue anyone for anything, no matter how ridiculous. As a consequence, some of the warning labels and disclaimers you see can be quite hilarious. One of my favorite disclaimers is in a commercial that shows an SUV driving into a volcano and subsequently getting blown out of it, landing miles away. "Do not attempt" it advises.

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch certainly has some good ones on warning labels; after all the humorous examples it goes on to say "Predatory lawyers know they can file ridiculous lawsuits against innocent product makers and blackmail them into cash settlements..." But what amazes me is that it seemingly proves effective to use the warning labels and disclaimers in the first place. Sometimes I see some disclaimer flashed on the screen in tiny writing, and for an impossibly short period of time. Is it really true that anyone trying to sue some company that does that would just hear the judge say, "yes, it was too tiny to read and shown too briefly to read, but that was all that was required by the law and therefore you lose your lawsuit."

The law is an ass, they say. An ass that does not care how ridiculous it looks, it would seem. I remember watching a program that had a bunch of lawyers on it and one of them criticized the lawsuit that the lady had against McDonalds for making their coffee too hot to pour on your crotch. One of the other lawyers spoke up and said something like "actually I was involved in this and you know if you learn the details you find the lady had a good case, McDonalds had been warned before and blah blah blah." I guess it is probably true, that if you were involved and you buried yourself only in the legal issues, anyone who was willing to look at it only from that perspective possibly could be convinced of this.

And then there is the phenomenon of not having a warning label where one would be advisable. Take the recent case of popular little seats made to put a baby in; apparently the manufacturer suggested the kid was not able to get out of the seat and parents were using it to put the child aside so it did not have to be watched. And they would put child and seat on the tops of tables and counters [the company had literature showing this usage]. Of course there have been several incidents of severe injuries as the kid and seat topple off together to hit the floor. Well, I have little sympathy for that company [or for the dumb parents either].

I was hoping I would be able to tell you the results of an experiment I undertook. The white 7 gallon buckets that are used for my homebrewing hobby carry a big warning label that a child could fall into the bucket and drown. It occurred to me that possibly this was something that has never happened except in crazy circumstances, since under normal circumstances a child unable to get out of the bucket would also not be able to get into it. So I had Google email me every time it had a news story involving the words "drown" and "bucket" or "pail." I decided the experiment failed as there was a long period with no emails [something wasn't working] and too many stories where it wasn't clear what happened. I also decided that possibly incidents wouldn't always make the news. I wound up with just a few stories on buckets, and only one was clearly a case of drowning in a bucket similar to what I use for homebrewing [one that drywall paste comes in]. But no details of how it happened. I sure got emailed a lot of tragic stuff. Vast quantities of children drown in swimming pools and bathtubs, with an eerie constant factor being that toddlers do so silently and without much struggle, theoretically not quite realizing what is happening. There were several stories worldwide of children drowning in mop buckets, one kid also drowned in a bucket that her mother had vomited in [ugh!]. As I remember they threw the book at that poor lady. But 90% of the articles Google sent were public-service type warning that children could drown in such buckets! Nonetheless it was a failed but interesting experiment.

[bad link edited out]


markpeters said...

It seems that priorities are slightly awry. Seeing the number of younsters shot in schools, shopping centres, and even outside of churches over the last few months, it seems that the dangers of falling into a bucket pales into insignificance. Pardon the pun!

Carlw4514 said...

I'm afraid we've gotten into a copy-cat phase with these school shootings, and will never see the end of it now. You might think gun control is the answer, but there are a million un-enforced laws on the books now. Registration and outright banning are greatly resisted ... btw, you'll remember there seems to be some story in Britain about Registration leading to Confiscation at least in some specific town. That has given great ammunition to anti-registration folks over here. You'll remember I asked you about that, ever find anything out?

Marsha said...

If you are going to complain about lawsuits, go for the big guns. The guys who put together the class actions. Recently there was a story in the paper about a partner in a lawfirm, the Milstien firm I think, what pleaded guilty to fraud for cooking up lawsuits by recruting plaintiffs to bring cases. They would find someone who fit the right criteria and then they filed class actions, usually shareholder suits. They would split the return with the dummy plaintiff.

Just tonight I am sitting here looking over a class action settlement notice, the fourth we have received this month. I am a purported member of the class. The case is against credit card companies who overcharged for foreign currency purchases. since I travel overseas, I was probably impacted by their bad practices. The class, which is probably made up of millions of people, gets a settlement of $336 million. The attorneys fee is...drum roll...$32 million. A 90/10 split. The justification is that the attorneys spent six years litigating. Whoopee. But if I want to object to the fee, I have to litigate it myself and there are all sorts of rules for doing so.

So the attorneys will walk away with a small fortune and the plaintiffs will likely get a few dollars because splitting $300 million among the millions who might have been impacted will whittle away at the net.

It is when we can stop this sort of fleecing, really robbery by lawsuit, then the system will return to normal. But as long as there are attorneys willing to work for a contingent fee and they know that companies just want to settle to make the case go away, it will continue.

BTW - this can be traced back to the day they allowed attorneys to advertise. Watch the Weather Channel all day and you will see twenty different ways to sue someone for something and there is a law firm out there just waiting to show you the way.

I think John Edwards and/or Lindsay Graham had actually proposed a sensible solution requiring as a condition that a case be pre-approved. But the Congress is full of lawyers and the lawyers lobby is almost as powerful as the gun lobby. So nothing gets done and nothing will be done.

Carlw4514 said...

As per our later conversation, indeed we all seem to get these "class action" things in the mail and scratch our heads about them. Sure disappointing to hear people individually get almost nothing.

Louise said...

I actually got something useful from a class action suit once. It was against the phone company for false advertising and I was one of the "claimants" or whatever. I ended up with $10 off my phone bill every month for a year, and 500 free long distance minutes. That was nice.

I think that often people just want someone to blame when bad things happen to them. They are angry or embarrassed or grieving (in case of a death), and they want to point the finger at someone else. But as my ex-boyfriend liked to say "When you point one finger at someone else, there's always three pointing right back at you".

Carlw4514 said...

$10 a month for a year? I'm jealous as hell now [g]