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Friday, February 1, 2013

Avoiding The Lawsuit Lottery

lawsuit lotto
lawsuit lotto (Photo credit: Shira Golding)

The Great Subway Debate 

       For those of you who missed our lively debate of last Friday about the inch short Subway Footlongs, you missed a good one.  You might want to go back and read through the great comments that ensued.   As is frequently the case with the topics I toss out to you readers, I was met with views from both sides and some excellent comments that got my brain working.   As the discussion progressed, I was inspired with my idea of how the fast food restaurants might avoid future lawsuits and legal issues.

        Some of you upon hearing my suggestion might immediately think it absurd.  But even in the greatest absurdities can sometimes be found some basis of truth.  I think I make a good point no matter how nonsensical it may appear on the surface.  And even if the point is hidden somewhere in the twilight zone of fanciful imagination there might be that glimmer of something that works.  So let me explain my idea and you can give me your thoughts.

My Maybe-Not-Totally-Wacky Solution

      Fast food restaurants have had more than a few lawsuits over the past couple of decades.  We've seen people suing over hot coffee, mystery meat, and freaky additives.  The stories are sometimes horrifying and at other times outrageously absurd.  Sometimes they have been totally faked like the famous finger in the chili story.   Whatever the story has been, the desired and often attained outcome is lucrative monetary wins for the litigant and in a bigger way for the lawyers.

         I suggest that firstly all disclosures of product contents and potential liabilities that could be incurred by the customer in entering and patronizing an establishment be prominently displayed at each entrance so that each customer has been presented a legally binding warning whether or not they have chosen to read it.  This is actually done to some extent in most national chains, especially where it comes to telling customers about nutritional values and things like measurements such as precooked meat weights and such.  The difference in the presentation I'm suggesting is that it becomes so prominent that it's hard to miss by any customer entering through the doors of an establishment.

         Next, as part of the ordering process the customer is presented a legal document with all previous disclosures presented a second time with an accompanying statement releasing the business from any liabilities that have been described in said document, including such things as hot beverages, choking hazards, and foreign objects found in the food.  Before receiving the meal the customer would have to sign the document.  This exchange might also have to be witnessed and stamped by someone such as a notary public.

        The restaurant would be staffed by lawyers, paralegals, and law students.  Now not only would these establishments serve food, they could also contain storefront legal service operations so that diners could take care of other legal matters while there.    Businessmen could draw up contracts while lunching at Boston Market, divorce arrangements could be made as you eat your Big Mac Combo, or you could dine at Taco Bell while consulting with your immigration attorney.  The possibilities are limitless.  

        New law graduates, lawyers without a practice, and many others trained for the legal profession could be put to work in a situation that would provide rigorous and practical on the job training.  Excess legal stupidity could be mediated  in a surrounding of soup and salads and free up the court system to a greater degree.  New jobs for more attorneys and a restaurant environment free of the lawsuit lottery leeches.

        Sure, those leeches will move on, but so will the army of attorneys.  Pretty soon every establishment could have their own individual attorney and no one could ever sue again.  Oh, and besides the attorneys we can add armed guards.   A safer world awaits us all.

         Do you think my scheme will work?   If you were hungry, would you be willing to sign a release in order to get your food?  How much more would you be willing to pay for your favorite fast food item than you pay now?   How stupid exactly is my idea?

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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It is absurd. But totally brilliant. Make it so!

Rob Z Tobor said...

Strangely here in the UK University graduates find it increasingly difficult to find work so many of them now work in such establishments already. Sadly the mentality of many customers is such that although some ideas may sound mad they are needed.

We ran an art gallery up until last year and just before we closed a little lad of about eight was sliding down the stairs head first. We told him it was dangerous and that he would hurt himself, to which his response was . . . Well if I do my dad will sue you . . . .We therefore told him and his parents that they should leave. The parents were OK and were very embarrassed and it appears the lad had been told that they could sue us by his grandfather.....

Yvonnes Poetry Corner said...

This is a brilliant idea,
Though quite absurd.
Who else could think up this
But Arlee Bird.

Have a good day,

Emily L. Moir-Genther said...

I tend to get belligerent when I'm hungry. Having to sign a waver for food and have it notarized would likely end up in being the one getting sued. Though I could totally see the whole divorces over big Macs thing working out.

Em-Musing said...

Love your ideas. I can see a sign, "no shirts, no shoes, and no service to greedy idiots"

Jeremy [Retro-Z] said...


Arlee Bird said...

Alex -- It could happen one day.

Rob -- Our society has become conditioned to think "lawsuit" whenever something happens that might have an adverse effect even in the least way. I've been hearing of many out of work lawyers in this country and law graduates who have to take jobs in other fields.

Yvonne -- Love the rhyme! Thank you.

Emily -- With fast food would come streamlined legal services. While food is prepared, customer scans document, quickly scans through it, and notary stamps it. It could be done quickly! But I'm with you--when I'm hungry I want my food.

Em -- It might curtail some of that greed.

Jeremy -- That's why my parents called me "Sun".


Andrew Leon said...

On the one hand, I like it. It's anti-stupidity. On the other hand, though...

Well, corporations are probably the most evil entities in the world, and they employ hordes of another, largely, evil entity: lawyers. You're suggesting that they join forces to combat said stupidity, but I don't see that there's any way the consumer would actually win in an environment like that one.

Probably a more serious answer that what's called for, but corps take advantage of people at every opportunity, so I don't think we should make it easier for them to do that.

Robin said...

I am inclined to agree with Alex on this one. At first reading it is absurd, but totally brilliant. At second reading, still brilliant, slightly less absurd. Third reading, I am thinking that this might actually work and streamline itself. There would actually be a counter where you sign your waiver and have it notarized. Sign, stamp. Turn that in and order your food. The cost of that is just figured in to your order. Other lawyers could set up shop to offer independent services. That is just brilliant. I am not sure I would want to try and "do business" in the Rush Hours, but I would make appts for the less busy for people to come back.

You are actually correct. Doing business this way would be cheaper (no overhead) and would likely clean up the docket (many useless suits would go away because other businesses would follow this lead). Civil court would get much better. And those lawyers would actually get back to work. Less people out of work... yay.

Frankly, it is so crazy it is brilliant.

LD Masterson said...

The fact that I can actually picture this is terrifying.

Johanna Garth said...

I keep reading articles about how hard it is to get a job out of law school right now. I think your suggestion is just what is needed to put all those under-utilized legal skills to work!

Arlee Bird said...

Andrew -- I don't know that I'd agree that all corporations are the most evil entities in the world. On one hand corporate structure presents some kind of accountability for customers to take recourse against improper actions and does allow for more economic products and more control--at least in theory. Private business can be chaotic at times. But that's a whole different topic that I'll have to delve into one day. In the absurd scenario that I've presented I think the biggest losers would be the lawsuit happy crowd and the attorneys who make a living from high payout litigation.

Robin -- Dang! Now you've convinced me. And yes, they would have to set up certain hours where they could concentrate on the actual cases. Hey, any attorneys out there taking heed to this?

LD -- Who would have ever thought that Walmart would become like a mini-mall? Now I can go there to have McDonalds, do my banking, get a manicure, do my taxes, and a whole host of other stuff including shopping for just about anything I need.

Johanna-- I'd been hearing those stories as well which probably was a spark in the back of my mind that provided me some inspiration for this idea.


Andrew Leon said...

Well, here's a corporate evil that's happening right here next to me, right now. A couple of years ago, there was a huge gas main explosion in Oakland that leveled a couple of blocks and killed a bunch of people. This was caused due to the direct negligence of PG&E in upkeeping the lines. Basically, as they said, it was money they didn't want to spend. Now, they've been ordered to makes sure all their gas lines are up to standards to prevent something like this from happening again; this is something they should have been doing for the last, oh, 50 years or something. They are attempting to bill the residents directly in the various areas where they need to provide upgrades. The residents would be paying their normal gas bill, which is supposed to cover this stuff, plus pay extra for the specific improvements that PG&E needs to make. There is now going to be -another- court case, because what PG&E is trying to do is, evidently, illegal, but they feel like they shouldn't have to foot the bill for their own negligence. PG&E is a relatively "non-evil" corporation as far as I can tell, too.

Melanie Schulz said...

I think I'll just skip the whole mess and cook at home.

YeamieWaffles said...

I think that your idea is genius Lee although it does annoy me how sue happy everybody seems to be in America, it happens way too frequently like people suing rope companies over failed suicide attempts and such.

Arlee Bird said...

Andrew -- I don't deny that there is some corporate evil out there, but in the case like you cite I can see the PG&E side of the argument as well as the frustration of the customers. However, I'm talking about corporate entities that are more directly accountable on a one on one basis, who have to deal with their franchise owners and other stakeholders, and in the public spotlight. The high level of competition in the marketplace as well as the number of venues for review and complaint from the customer base makes these companies more agreeable to addressing problems and avoiding bad publicity. Unlike things like utilities, banks, and the like they are not "the only game in town" so to speak nor do they have the customer in a choke hold. The service and product distribution business have great reason not to come across as evil and I think they do try to address issues with which they are confronted. Sometimes though they are put into a position of desperate defense because of strong arm legal tactics. I think the biggest evil in the case of some of these comes from extreme pay disparities between the workers and top management. Once again another topic I plan to address eventually.

Melanie -- What! And miss all that great fast food. You want to be healthy and eat good homemade food? How utterly un-American. ;)


Andrew Leon said...

The pay disparity issue is one I've mentioned before. I'm not remembering the exact figures, right now, but it's something like 50 years top level got paid around 30x the lowest employee, now it's something like 300x the lowest employee. That's pretty evil.

Arlee Bird said...

Yeamie -- Funny point about the rope. Don't know if you're serious or not and I haven't heard about that. I wouldn't be surprised by anything anymore.

Andrew -- CEO and top level pay is obscene and greedy so I guess that would be consider evil. I'm not sure how things got to the point they did, but I attribute many of our labor and economic problems to it. On the other side of the table though are the union demands, which again is another topic for another day.


Susan Kane said...

I am with Alex: Make it so! I wonder what THAT would do with the economic growth of our country? Employment for lawyers would go up, but the franchises would close, cost of burgers would skyrocket...too much thinking.

Go with it!

Chuck said...

This is I really a great proposal, Lee. I really like the part about the notary public being on hand when the food is served. I am a notary...I will be rich! Thanks for the not at all absurd Idea. I am drafting a petition right now....

Patricia Stoltey said...

Okay, you made me laugh, Lee.

I don't have a lot of time to measure buns, rarely eat food from fast food restaurants, and am pretty careful with my cups of very hot coffee, so these issues don't impact my life so much. I don't think I'd find lawyer-infested fast food joints good for my digestion, so I'd probably avoid them.

Kelly Robinson said...

It actually upsets me that the hot coffee lawsuit has become synonymous with frivolous suits. The woman who was burned by the McDonald's coffee was horrifically burned, requiring 8 days in the hospital for skin grafts. The photos of her burns would make you lose your lunch.

She only sought to recoup money for her medical bills, and McDonald's balked, leading to the lawsuit.

(Here's more info, without the gruesome pix:

I agree that lawsuits are out of control, but the hot coffee suit is not an example of a frivolous one.

Arlee Bird said...

Susan -- I'm wondering if the burgers would go up that much? Volume might increase enough to keep prices down and the cheap food might be a loss leader to draw in more legal business.

Chuck -- There you go! One more person finds a job, the economy is boosted.

Patricia -- The presence of lawyers might make for better food and an improvement to the fast food experience. Don't knock the idea yet.

Kelly -- The coffee was HOT! I would expect to receive hot coffee when I ordered it and I would take precautions accordingly. Now if a McDonald's employee purposely dumped the hot coffee on me it would be a different story. And still it would be more a matter of criminal intent than an accident partly caused by carelessness. I plan to do a future post on the topic of our victim society and this is an example in my opinion.


Ciara said...

Sometimes it takes the totally absurd process to deal with such craziness. Great idea.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That idea just might work.

I'm not sure what started the avalanche of lawsuits and people suing, but it's pathetic how many people think that is the answer.

Jo said...

Don't think I would want the hassle, but as I rarely, if ever, eat in fast food joints of any kind, I wouldn't get the problem. If I felt the need in an upscale restaurant for such legalities, I wouldn't go.


Jan Newman said...

Litigators would find loopholes in the waivers. You'll never make one that's airtight or stamp out the sue-em mentality. But I worked as a paralegal for an insurance defense firm, so Jaded is my middle name.

Beyond Acadia
Jan at Beyond Acadia

Arlee Bird said...

Ciara -- I'm not gonna expect this to happen, but I got a kick out of thinking about it.

Diane -- I guess difficult times call for drastic ways to get money. I think lottery purchases have probably gone up over the years too. Easy money is a dream way for most of us.

Jo -- No hassle! The lawyers take care of everything when they smell money. And the presence of lawyers in a restaurant does not make it upscale.

Jan -- Loopholes are the magic key for litigators. The holes would keep getting filled as the process became perfected.


Murr Brewster said...

If everyone had lawyers, we could just set up cage matches. My nephew is a lawyer and he's really large. I take him.

What I'd really like to do is sue myself over my morning coffee. No matter how many times I tell myself, I never get it right. I forget the water. I forget the coffee. I forget to turn on the machine. If I could sue myself, there's a chance I could remand myself back to bed.

Arlee Bird said...

Murr -- Suing oneself--now there's a creative twist. I could find all kinds of things to sue myself for but I wouldn't get anything out of it. Thanks for stopping by.


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Daron - Thank you! I have replied at your blog post.