Just how litigious is American society? We’ve all heard the tale of the woman who put a steaming cup of coffee that she had just bought at a McDonald’s between her legs. Sustaining burns in her “pelvic region” when it spilled, she won $640,000 in punitive damages. Yes, folks, you can have Stella Liebeck to thank for the warning labels on takeout cups of coffee telling you that they are hot.
There are warnings on everything these days. Superhero Halloween costumes have labels warning us that the cape will not make you fly and jars of peanut butter caution us that “this product contains nuts.” But possibly the stupidest disclaimers of all are what I see on the many car commercials during football and baseball games (which, being all I ever watch on TV, make up a big chunk of the advertisements I see, along with those for beer, tools and erectile dysfunction drugs).
Take one I saw yesterday during the LSU-Arkansas game in which a Ford Fusion drives along a twisty mountain road and then off of a cliff, soaring through the air. The small print tells us: “Fictionalization. Do not attempt. professional driver on closed course. Cars can not fly.”
Um, thanks. Another one shows a volcano erupting and spewing out a tiny object that then lands in the foreground. It’s a rugged SUV with a driver inside that then drives off. The warning: “Do not attempt.” Another shows a Nissan Frontier snowboarding down a mountain, doing some neat barrel rolls. The helpful warning: “Fantasy. Trucks can’t snowboard. Do not attempt.” My favorite is one for the Fiat 500 that shows several of the cars diving into the ocean or driving into the water from beaches in Italy and then emerging from the water in New York. “Fictionalization. Do not attempt.”
Now there are plenty of legitimate lawsuits, but one has to believe that they are in the minority. An estimate from five years ago holds that torts in the U.S. incur costs of $865 billion or nearly $10,000 per family of four annually. That’s incredible – and it doesn’t even include the cost of paying lawyers to come up with all these warnings about nuts in peanuts and not being able to launch a car out of a volcano. At least they have a good chuckle when drafting these disclaimers at $195 an hour.