Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dennis Kucinich's Olive Lawsuit: Is It The Pits?

Here we go again...more fodder for the lawsuit bashers...

CNN is reporting that Dennis Kucinich has filed a $150,000 lawsuit against a cafeteria for a rogue olive pit that he bit into as he was eating a sandwich wrap. Apparently he needed some dental work and some surgery as a result of the dental trauma.

We all know what is going to come from this, Conan, Letterman, and Leno jokes aside. Groups like The Chamber Of Commerce will jump on this like hyenas on a carcass, like they always do, when one of these lawsuits hits the media. They'll assail it as another example of someone trying to hit the "litigation lottery" and drag the lawsuit papers around as another poster child for much needed "legal reforms."

Unfortunately, Mr. Kucinich has given them some gratuitous ammo with this lawsuit. But let's break this down as best we can from the scant information we know. First, there is a possiblity that the pit should never have been in the wrap he was eating. Let's assume it had no business being there and was a mistake.

If he did require extensive dental work due to this mistake, certainly he would be entitled to recover the cost of the procedures, and the pain and inconvenience associated with it. I think most people would agree with that. So far, so good, but...

Where this lawsuit will start to smell, however, is the claim in the complaint for $150,000. First, there was no need to ask for a specific amount of money in the complaint. His attorneys could have included a short paragraph in the complaint that requested "that he be awarded a sum of money to compensate him for the past and future costs of any necessary medical or dental expenses, and the the pain and inconvenience associated with the dental trauma and the multiple procedures" and left it at that. In fact, in many states, like Ohio, we are prohibited from asking for an amount in the complaint that exceeds $25,000.

My guess is that if a specific monetary amount was omitted from the complaint, it would not have made news on CNN's website. Or, if it did, the story would have died as soon as it surfaced.

But the demand for $150,000 will be the proverbial gas can that ignites a fire of criticism, and will become fodder or a symbol of yet another "excessive lawsuit." Totally unnecessary in my humble opinion, as the hit Mr. Kucinich will take from it, and the misperceptions of our legal system it will generate, far outweigh the utility of asking for that amount. This is especially true given the fact that the amount sued for often times is not reflective of what the case may settle for, or what a judge or jury returns in the form of a verdict.

I don't know who said "All press is good press," but with any maxim, there are usually truckloads of exceptions.

I'm sure I'll hear about the "olive pit" lawsuit, right next to the "hot coffee" case, when I pick my next jury.

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