From Pine View Farm

Legal Beagels 6

Down the road a piece, there is a judge who has sued a dry cleaner for $54,000,000 because, alleges the judge, the dry cleaner lost the judge’s pants. That turned out to be the primary subject of an online chat featuring Marc Fisher, a columnist for the Washington Post. The chat is a hoot to read, but it also got serious.

As preface, one of our neighbors just got a nice wooden gym for his daughter. More landscaping was being done today, and we were wondering what was being done. One of our theories was that he was getting extra fall protection installed under it, because (in my words) “everyone is afraid of liability.” (Full disclosure: Turns out he was just getting some sod around the edges of the play area.)

outdoor gym

But Mr. Fisher honed right in on this type of thinking in his chat (emphasis added):

. . . as a society, we’ve done a terrible job of shielding ourselves from the idea that we must act to protect ourselves from liability rather than to do the right and humane thing. This is true in virtually every aspect of contemporary life: schools, churches, businesses, real estate, government. Wherever you turn, whether it’s the neighborhood playground or the workplace, decisions are made because of some lawyer’s advice that you could be sued, rather than because of what’s right and in the interests of the community.

I have seen this in corporate life, where decisions are based, not on the right action, but on the possibility that some bozo with enough money might sue. And in private life.

And the public contributes to it, with the thinking that, whenever something goes wrong, there must be someone to blame and that someone should, by God, pay.

And, you know, that’s just not right.

Sure, there’s plenty of times when there’s someone to blame. Think of just about everything touched by George W. Bush. Think about melamine in pet food. Melamine in people food.

But sometimes, bad things just happen, because life is a messy, disorganized, chaotic, out-of-control thing.



  1. Karen

    June 16, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    The jerk with the pants, & the attitude that people have nowadays is the very reason I carry the amount of liability that I do. Both personal & commercial. If something happens, I don’t want to get hit by some lazy slob that thinks a lawsuit is a job, & a sleezy ambulance chaser who is very good at pointing a finger at someone else.

    It’s like I was always told when I complained about something not being fair. The answer I routinely got was “nothin’s fair, deal with it”.

    The blame someone else mentality today is all over. It’s taught to small kids who grow up to blame someone else.

  2. Opie

    June 16, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    If we had restrained the concept of liability to the repayment of actual damages, I don’t think we would have ever gotten to this point. The gradual descent into awarding damages for pain, suffering, embarrassment, acne, lost sleep and “sending a message to the big corporations” put all of society into a position where we really don’t know what we are defending against or what we are liable for. Given the circumstances, ridiculous measures are inevitable.

  3. Karen

    June 17, 2007 at 8:58 am

    There are a couple of things that are included in a demand for settlement that you missed, Opie. I’m not going to list them, but they are akin to the ‘loss of sleep’.

  4. Frank

    June 17, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    I have nothing against sending a message to big corporations that intentionally endanger or defraud others.

    Those who gave us Enron and Thialidomide deserve punishment. Those who hide studies and release unsafe drugs deserve punishment.

    And the only punishment those types understand is punishment in the pocketbook, because their only God is the pocketbook.

    But I do think we should adopt the English system, in which the loser pays the court costs.

  5. Opie

    June 17, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    “Those who gave us Enron and Thialidomide deserve punishment.”

    Should the civil courts be for punishment? Fraud and intentional endangerment are criminal matters. Could it be though, that sending a message to criminals via criminal court does not yield the same financial rewards for lawyers like John Edwards?

  6. Frank

    June 19, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    When the criminal prosecutor chooses not to pursue civil wrong-doing, the wisdom of twelve good men (and women) assembled in the civil jury may sometimes have to step to the plate.

    Many prosecutors are reluctant to attack cases of fraud because, frankly, they are evaluated on convictions, and convictions in fraud cases are difficult and time-consuming and iffy.

    I have no problems with John Edwards’s, to use your example, becoming wealthy by doing a good and honest job for his clients. He earned his money, and he earned it honestly. He didn’t steal it and he didn’t obtain it under false pretenses.

    Unlike Congressman Randy Cunningham, for example.

    If you would use his wealth against him, would you also use DubbaYou’s wealth against DubbaYou? What wealth he did not get from Papa, he has had given to him by those who have supported him through a succession of losing business ventures. He didn’t earn his money. He had it handed to him.

    Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t understand or respect the value of the lives of the honest persons he sends to their deaths for his lies in Iraq.