Why Dennis Kucinich’s Olive Pit Lawsuit Matters

My commentary about this outrageous lawsuit appeared today in the Daily Caller and is reprinted below:

Did you see the report in the Daily Caller Wednesday about Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich suing a cafeteria on Capitol Hill for $150,000 over a sandwich he purchased there nearly three years ago?  Kucinich claims he hurt his tooth by biting an olive pit that was part of his vegetarian sandwich, and now he wants to settle this in the courts.  Ughh!

There is so much wrong with this lawsuit that I hardly know where to begin, but here are some of the reasons why Americans should care about this.

As taxpayers, we all pay for premium dental coverage for Kucinich and all members of Congress.  Surely, it has to be some of the best dental care in the world.  Has the Congressman opted out of this coverage?  Or, does he still have the coverage and want to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his dental care?

We don’t know because Kucinich’s attorney has stated that this is a “private matter.”  Neither he nor Kucinich will comment.

Well, when you’re a member of the United States House of Representatives and file a lawsuit like this, it’s not going to remain a private matter.  It shouldn’t be a private matter.  There are a lot of reasons why Americans deserve to know more and why we should be disturbed about this lawsuit.

Even if the Congressman wants to seek reimbursement for the cost of his dental work to save taxpayers from having to foot the bill for this, there are better ways to accomplish that.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that the cafeteria was somehow responsible.  Did he try talking with them about some sort of settlement before suing?  If that didn’t work, did he try low-cost facilitative mediation (which is much different from court-ordered mediation)?

I suspect he didn’t offer to take this to mediation in an effort to save the cafeteria or the food suppliers he also sued from the aggravation and expense of having to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.  If he had, that would make him look at least somewhat sympathetic to America’s struggling job providers who must deal with frivolous lawsuits on a regular basis, and he would probably be declaring that from the rooftop of Congress.

At least one lawyer has said that the pit in the sandwich should have been foreseeable and therefore not the grounds for a lawsuit.  I agree, but of course, this is what lawyers argue about and is the legal theory on which Kucinich will hang his hat.

There’s a larger point to be made here, however.  There used to be a time when lawsuits over minor injuries were filed only a last resort. Not anymore, and that’s part of the problem in our country.  It’s a major reason why every American pays a “lawsuit tax” of nearly $2,000 per year – even if we’re never sued.

Many of us have bitten into food, hurt a tooth, and chosen NOT to sue.  These things happen.  It’s part of life.  You get the tooth fixed and move on – especially if you have dental coverage.  If you don’t have coverage, there are options like mediation if you really must push the issue.  And even if you’re going to push it, how do you arrive at damages worth $150,000?  Really?

As the creator of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, one of the first things I did after hearing about this lawsuit was check the label on the jar of pitted olives in my refrigerator.  These olives have big red pimentos in them where the pit used to be.  Do you think there’s a warning?  Of course there is.  It says: “May contain pits.”

I wish obvious warnings like that weren’t necessary in the United States, but lawsuits like the one filed by Congressman Kucinich unfortunately show us why they are.

Washington Times Publishes Op-Ed About Lawsuit Taxes

Many thanks to the Washington Times for publishing my op-ed about a disturbing new development I wrote about on this blog a few weeks ago:  lawsuit taxes.  The online version is available here.

There have been some insightful comments by Times readers since the article was published, and I especially like what John Y has to say about the silver lining of lawsuit taxes like the one levied in Detroit this summer:

“When a special tax is levied by fiat, that will get the taxpayers’ attention.  Maybe then, the citizenry will see the light and the cost, and give legislators the heat they so richly deserve for coddling up to the lawyers.”

While I’m reluctant to wish lawsuit taxes on anyone else around the country, the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly seems to apply to lawsuit taxes.  We’ll just keep working to make this costly problem a top-of-the-mind issue for our elected leaders.

Detroit Taxpayers Get Hit With Special Lawsuit Tax

The “hidden” lawsuit tax we all pay because we live in the most lawsuit-happy society on earth isn’t hiding in Detroit anymore.

It’s right there in plain sight for residents of the Motor City who got a property tax bill this summer. The Detroit Public School district has had to pay so much money for lawsuits against the district over the past year that officials there put a special “judgment tax levy” on the most recent property tax bill.  Read about it in the Detroit Free Press here.

Now, I’ve been talking about the hidden lawsuit tax for years, but this action by the Detroit schools underscores the fact that we all pay for lawsuits, even if we’re never directly sued.   Sure, the lawsuit tax isn’t a line most of us have seen on the receipts we’ve received when purchasing goods and services, but that is beginning to change.

Cities across the country are reporting record payouts for lawsuits, and with budgets getting squeezed, experts believe special lawsuit taxes may spread if the problem of lawsuit abuse isn’t addressed.  Local governments aren’t the only ones beginning to pass on the cost of lawsuits, either.

In an earlier post on this blog, I revealed that the hugely popular City Museum in St. Louis has added a charge to its tickets to pay for lawsuits against the museum.   Start adding up all of these special taxes and surcharges, and it’s easy to see how the Pacific Research Institute came up with a “tort tax” of nearly $2,000 that is imposed on every man, woman and child in the United States each year.

Whether it’s called a lawsuit tax, tort tax or judgment tax, no one wants to have to pay it.  The only thing good about having these taxes now begin to appear on actual bills is that it will make everyone aware that we are all paying for the lawsuit epidemic happening in our country.  Awareness of the problem is the first step toward fixing it.

Scooters Move: Why Do Americans Need To Be Warned?

A German TV interviewer asked me this question.

frogonscooterA film crew from ARD German TV came to my office a couple of weeks ago to film a story about Wacky Warning Labels and lawsuits in America.

ARD German TV is equivalent to PBS in the United States, and it is the latest in a string of overseas television networks to take an interest in the Wacky Warning Label Contest sponsored by the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice.   Television crews from Korea, France and Japan have also traveled here to film stories about why Americans need labels that warn us of obvious risks.

Reporters from countries look at us lawsuit-happy Americans with a mixture of disbelief and sympathy.  When I show them a label on a popular scooter that warns, “This product moves when used,” they laugh, of course, and then ask why it’s there.  They simply don’t see these kinds of labels on products in their countries.

After I give them a list of lawsuits against product makers that involved someone getting injured while using a product that WASN’T defective, they begin to understand.  However, since all of these reporters come from countries that have Loser Pays legal systems – meaning people there who sue and lose have to pay the legal costs of the party they sued – they are not accustomed to a legal system tolerating these types of lawsuits.

I’ve learned a lot during these interviews with reporters from other countries.  Mainly, I’ve discovered how out of whack America’s civil justice system is with other developed countries with which we are competing for economic development.  I wish every member of Congress and every state legislator could sit in on these interviews.

When I ask the reporters if the scarcity of lawsuits in their countries has left them with an abundance of injuries from unsafe products, they simply say “No.”  These are investigative reporters who would know.

So, if we’re not any safer because of all these lawsuits, and if we’re paying more for the consumer products we buy because of the built-in “lawsuit tax” that Americans pay, why do we tolerate this situation?  There’s no easy answer to that question.  However, in my opinion, the tremendous influence of the plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been throwing money at lawmakers and judges with the hope of getting (and/or keeping) laws that make it easier for them to sue is a primary driver of this situation.  More on that later.

I’ll post the video of the segment that runs on ARD German TV as soon as it’s available.