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Sue Me

The ability to sue is a cultural stopgap in a time when more individuals need to take more responsibility for their actions.

Coming off a two-day stint of gripping jury duty, I’ve cemented my belief that our culture is too eager to self-diagnose, place blame, and sue anything that may negatively impact our lives, regardless of fault.


Long story, short: Woman A is loading groceries into the trunk of her car. Woman B backs her car into the front of the grocery getter, which slides back and bumps Woman A in the knees. Woman A books $90,000 — maybe two-thirds after her lawyer paid for a few more commercials — and I’m pretty sure that I’ve been kicked harder by untended troublesome toddlers at the children’s museum.


I sat on a jury of peers, taking notes, and wondering how a woman capable of walking around in heels had the audacity to sue another woman and, most notably, her insurance company based on a flimsy knee injury diagnosis. After eight hours of medical jargon, medical consultants (a hired gun at four thousand dollars per day), a timid plaintiff, and stern sparring between an ambulance chaser and an insurer’s company man, I was sent to a room where I and 11 fellow county members fired out dollar amounts in dismissive tones. Meanwhile, we contemplated whether or not we wanted to weigh the facts long enough to score free pizza from a local restaurant. I will be paid $25 for the two days and I have yet to dig out from under the workload, social and professional, that piled up in my absence.


I was excited to be a part of the process. Even sitting amongst a pool of 300 disgruntled individuals who couldn’t fathom how the court had the nerve to summon them at the onset of their workweek, I was ready and willing to serve the court without the typical associated attorney fees or the judicial tongue-lashing regarding the harrowing story of the student who sped. I did not leave with the same excitement.


I tried not to lament about the process. That’s a lie, I couldn’t wait to describe the many flaws I observed to friends and co-workers in search of a collective sigh. After the judge informed the jury that the lawyers may attempt to contact us, I nearly handed out business cards. I would’ve loved a cup of coffee and a trial postmortem. If not for any other reason, I wanted to know why the defense didn’t ask the plaintiff how she managed to walk around in heels after suffering such a horrific accident. After all, according to her testimony, the trips to the zoo with her four kids will never be the same — maybe drop the heels and pick up a K Swiss sneaker for the trip  — the insurer will pay for it. 


Given my recent time in the jury box, and noted role in further breaking the system, I was disheartened to read Jesse J. Holland’s recent article, “Court Makes it Easier to Sue Businesses.” Just what the doctor ordered — more Band-Aids for our self-inflicted hurt feelings — two days in court and I’m already a John Grisham stereotype (It’s time to kill the firm’s partner in the chamber. Bleachers.)


In the first case Holland covers, the Supreme Court ruled that investors had the right to sue a business for withholding damaging information about a product. The case in question revolves around Matrixx Initiatives and the small problem the company ran into when it came to light that Zicam nasal cold remedies stripped some users of their sense of smell. Personally, I can’t believe that anyone would doubt the integrity of an over-the-counter healthcare company; the industry’s record speaks for itself. (Sarcasm noted.)


I find the scenario much more animalistic, and I just want to be sure that the now nose-dead individuals who are suffering a permanent physical ailment have a shot at Matrixx’s wounded carcass before the faceless investors that fronted the inventory capital have an opening. An investment is an inherent gamble made based on a belief that a company’s potential will yield a return. I can’t sue Bally’s when I bet on black, and it comes up red. I still can’t sue if the roulette dealer assures me that the ball would land on black, in which case I would simply be labeled a fool and move on.


The second Supreme Court case seems promising at a time when the rights of the worker are under attack. Kevin Kasten is suing his former employer, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, in a retaliation lawsuit after his former employer fired him when he complained about time-clock placement negatively affecting overtime. The company settled with other employees for $1.5 million while stonewalling Kasten because he never wrote a complaint claim to a government agency seeking anti-retaliation protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act.


The court disagreed. Said Justice Stephen Breyer, "Why would Congress want to limit the enforcement scheme's effectiveness by inhibiting use of the Act's complaint procedure by those who would find it difficult to reduce their complaints to writing, particularly illiterate, less educated, or overworked workers?" Score one for the whistle-blower.


The ability to sue is a cultural stopgap in a time when more individuals need to take more responsibility for their actions. Its abuse has also stricken our nation’s faith in the judicial system and become a full-time job for those suckling the sue-crazed teat. In four years, if I have the opportunity again, I’ll approach the situation with much greater fervor. Until then, I’ll write columns to over-compensate for my lapse.


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