Are lawsuits becoming the newest way to make a buck at someone else's expense?
Ah, the irony. The Great American Dream has been replaced by the Great American Lawsuit. Hard work to get ahead has given in to seizing opportunity—or inventing it—from virtually any event that might occur in a day to day life.
A whole American subculture lives from the ill-gotten gains of a court system ready to take easily and often, and give richly.Harsh words? I’ll leave out the McDonald’s coffee suit, given the age of the woman involved and her apparent serious injuries. It pains me to leave that out, because customers will raise hell over cold food and beverages as surely as they will sue over hot ones. But others…the finger in Wendy’s chili that cost jobs and damaged reputations, later proven to be a hoax—from a lady who had already profited from suing a business. Some lawsuits would be laughable, except that the plaintiffs won. In glancing through “Top Ten Frivolous Lawsuits,” for example, one notices that a car company was held liable for the death of a woman too intoxicated to unbuckle her seat belt. A chemical company paid two workers for not using stronger warnings than “flammable,” and “keep away from heat.” Examples like these bring a groan from those of us who still find value in an honest day’s work.
Setting aside the lawsuits that clearly abuse the justice system, though, America is plagued with an epidemic of semi-serious lawsuits. Take the tragic case of those three New Jersey children found dead in the trunk of a family car, for example. The cops searched, didn’t search the trunk, and are being sued. The lawyer claims it’s not about money, but lawsuits are virtually always about the money. I don’t argue that the police had an obligation to check the trunks. However, the persons responsible for the children were, quite bluntly, the parents. The parents didn’t bother checking on the kids for over three hours; when they called the cops, they themselves didn’t check in the car’s trunk, though they admit that the children had climbed in before. I sympathize with the children and with the cops. And I think the parents should face neglect charges, not stand to make money off the local taxpayers.
How many of you have been involved in a fender bender—and been sued? My daughter goes to court October. On a rainy day two—almost three years ago—a car two cars ahead of hers braked without warning. Her fiancé hit that car, and the car right ahead of my daughter hit her fiancé’s car. She braked, swerved, and clipped the rear bumper and taillight. Police reports indicate virtually no damage to the car, none to her brand new car, and that the passengers reported no injury. The day before the filing deadline, the driver of the car sued my daughter, claiming that he was disfigured, permanently disabled, and that the car suffered heavy damage.
My daughter’s insurance company told her they were defending her, but that they’d probably give the man money—they told her that inevitably, paying money even in clearly fraudulent cases was less expensive than fighting. And insurance rates climb.
And then there are suits against public education. Every year our principal warns us that educators can be sued if children don’t learn. I had a little girl last year who missed 16 times. She’d tell me her mother had been out late the night before and didn’t want to get up, she’d tell me that they’d gone to the food stamp office—but she wouldn’t come. And she didn’t learn. Theoretically, the woman could take me to court—even though where the fault lies is easy to assess.
I also had a first grader, “Junior”, mentioned in Lessons Unlearned: Tragedies in Waiting in Public Education, who told me on his first day of class, that his mother would take me to court since I put an arm across the door and touched him as he tried to run away. When first graders threaten teachers with legal action, something is very wrong.
There are instances in which legal action is warranted. Sadly, I think the largest area of need is to protect patients from the medical field. This is not a blanket condemnation of medical practitioners, but we’ve all heard the stories of botched treatments, wrong operations, and such. Many of us with serious illnesses find getting adequate treatment next to impossible. For anyone, though, it seems to me that lawsuits over medical care—or over anything else—should accept that we all bear responsibility for our actions, and for trying to make intelligent choices. Lawsuits should provide relief for real damages and injuries, not become a socially accepted form of income.
Gone are the days when I would walk along a roadside picking up aluminum cans and wishing I could sue someone. Yes, I was hit from behind at a red light, but I wasn’t hurt. I got not one, but two, boxes of spoiled chicken from a franchise, but the third was fine. Sure, the idea of not scratching for money appeals to me—and to everyone else. But American society shouldn’t be a pyramid scheme of lawsuits—one feeding on the other until we’re all living from one court action after another. Pyramid schemes are great, but eventually—they collapse. How sad if we sue ourselves out of what most of us want—a decent living, honestly earned.