It’s all about the children

One of my favorite SNL sketches from back in the day was Dan Aykroyd as Irwin Mainway on the show “Consumer Probe.”  Mr. Mainway made toys for kids such as Johnny Switchblade, Bag O’ Glass (part of the very successful Bag O’ line), and Teddy Chainsaw Bear.  Classic!  The comedy lies in the fact that the danger in these kids products is patently obvious to everyone.

Is he playing with Mr. Skingrafter?

But plenty of products for children are recalled for hidden problems and latent defects each year.  Everything from strollers to cribs to toys with magnets in them.  Time Magazine just did a story on these issues.

What does this mean to you:

Though it is a pain, always fill out and return the warranty cards that come with products – especially children’s products – so you know when a recall happens.  A recall can be critical evidence in proving a claim.  Without a recall notice, you are relying on the goodness of Mr. Mainway’s heart to give you notice.

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Can you point me to the legal fiction aisle?

Corporations are many things.  They are convenient economic tools.  They are employers of many thousands of human people.  They sometimes even create beautiful objects which human people can use and covet.

See how tall he is?

But corporations are not people, my friend, despite what some have said.  Unlike human people, corporations live forever.  They can exist in multiple places simultaneously.  They have no heart, no soul, and no conscious.  They cannot speak or run for office or do any other thing that human people do.  To put it bluntly, corporations are property owned by human people.  (Which raises the question – is it then unconstitutional to own a corporation since the 13th Amendment outlawed the ownership of persons?)

What does this mean to you:

The word “corporation” is used nowhere the Constitution, a fact, of which, Thomas Jefferson was well-aware.  When corporations are improperly defined as “people,” they get the peoples’ rights.  Rights like “free speech.”  They then use the peoples’ rights to their benefit, like influencing what laws get passed.  Many times (and by “many” I mean “every,”) human people like you and me do not want the same laws passed as corporations such as Exxon Mobile or JP Morgan or Allstate Insurance. Laws like limits on how much a jury of your peers can give when someone has been injured by a dangerous product or a reckless semi truck driver, or laws saying a product is no longer defective as long as it is 10 years old, or laws limiting the amount to punish companies who intentionally hurt others.

Don’t cry over spilled coffee

Spill coffee on yourself and make a million dollars.  That’s what most folks believe happened in one of the most infamous product liability cases of all time – “the McDonald’s coffee case.”  Everyone knows coffee is hot, right?  So how can it be that McDonald’s was sued again in March of this year – not once but twice – for burning people with hot coffee?

Make mine a double-decafinated half-caf, skinny, venti, no whip with a shot of decaf.

The answer:  McDonalds continues to serve its coffee at dangerously hot temperatures.  As recounted is a recent documentary on the original case, the real facts (not those reported in the media or regurgitated on talk radio) are as follows:

– The injured person was 79 year old Stella Leibeck.

– She had never filed a lawsuit before in her life

– She was the passenger, not the driver.

–  They were parked, not driving.

– McDonalds served its coffee 20 degrees hotter than everyone else.

– McDonalds had burned over 700 people before, but refused to lower the temperature.

– Ms. Leibeck suffered third degree skin burns in her crotch, which required skin grafts.

– When she asked McDonalds to pay her medical bills of $20,000, they offered her $800.

– The jury awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  That’s the amount of profit McDonalds makes selling just coffee every two days.

– On appeal, the jury’s award was reduced, and the parties settled for a confidential amount that we will never know.

What does this mean to you:

There is often more to so-called “frivolous cases” than is first reported.  Cases like this, not only make up to the injured person for what they have lost, but discourages dangerous conduct in the future.

Does everyone know that coffee is hot?  Sure.  Does everyone know coffee is burn-your-skin-off-in-three-seconds hot?  Maybe not.