Starting today, CNN’s “American Morning” is airing the Center for Consumer Freedom’s newest television commercial. Click here to view the ad, which warns that trial lawyers are moving beyond ambulance chasing to an even more lucrative target: the food you eat. Most Americans — 89 percent according to one poll — think that lawsuits blaming restaurants and food companies for the obesity of some of their customers are ridiculous.
Newsweek’s last cover story laments “our litigation nation” and comes down firmly against the abuse of our court system by money-hungry trial lawyers. And Newsweek discusses how lawsuits themselves have contributed to obesity:
Playgrounds all over the country have been stripped of monkey bars, jungle gyms, high slides and swings, seesaws and other old-fashioned equipment once popularized by President John F. Kennedy’s physical-fitness campaign. The reason: thousands of lawsuits by people who hurt themselves at playgrounds. But some experts say that new, supposedly safer equipment is actually more dangerous because risk-loving kids will test themselves by, for instance, climbing across the top of a swing set. Other kids sit at home and get fat — and their parents sue McDonald’s.
Reading about the current abuses of our legal system, it’s increasingly difficult to view the courts as a bastion of democracy or a place where genuine victims can find justice. Consider some of the most ridiculous lawsuits (again, courtesy of Newsweek):
They sue doctors over misfortunes that no doctor could prevent. They sue their school officials for disciplining their children for cheating. They sue their local governments when they slip and fall on the sidewalk, get hit by drunken drivers, get struck by lightning on city golf courses — and even when they get attacked by a goose in a park (that one brought the injured plaintiff $10,000). They sue their ministers for failing to prevent suicides. They sue their Little League coaches for not putting their children on the all-star team. They sue their wardens when they get hurt playing basketball in prison. They sue when their injuries are severe but self-inflicted, when their hurts are trivial and when they have not suffered at all.
Many of these cases do not belong in court. But clients and lawyers sue anyway, because they hope they will get lucky and win a jackpot from a system that allows sympathetic juries to award plaintiffs not just real damages — say, the cost of doctor’s fees or wages lost — but millions more for impossible-to-measure “pain and suffering” and highly arbitrary “punitive damages.” (Under standard “contingency fee” arrangements, plaintiffs’ lawyers get a third to a half of the take.)
We suspect that only John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf would endorse these legal escapades. He blessed pretty much any lawsuit by saying: “One of the most effective ways to get social change is to sue people.”