I think I might be spending too much time at home in my Lay-Z-Boy, remote in hand, cruising up and down looking for something to watch that is only a tad less offensive and tedious than the other 193 cable offerings. I remember back before cable, we only had three or four worthless choices but in these enlightened times we are awash in hundreds of programs that aren’t worth watching.
While going up and down the dial, I came across a few lawyer ads and stopped to listen to the pitch. The message is always the same: If I’ve been injured or harmed, looked at sideways and feel I’ve been seriously wronged or damaged or just slightly annoyed and I can punch in a toll-free telephone number, I might strike it rich in a courtroom near me by suing somebody for something.
Why not me? I can punch in telephone numbers. And if I thought long and hard enough, I’m sure I could remember someone or some shady corporate entity that crossed my path and did something to me, something that some slick, fast-talking television lawyer could absorb, embellish a bit and work up into a multi-million dollar lawsuit.
I once heard of a case where someone had used a regular toolbox-variety electric drill on his buddy, who was suffering from a toothache. OK, yes, there were copious amounts of alcohol involved, if you must know.
Anyway, the guy starts drilling away on his buddy’s tooth and, not having any idea what he was doing, not surprisingly, he managed to cause some serious damage to his buddy’s mouth.
Enter a clever television lawyer who was glad to take the case. Before he was finished he strutted up and down in front of the jury box saying, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client here was only trying to help a friend in need of emergency dental work when he started drilling away with his handy electric drill. Now, you may ask if my client had any training in the field of dentistry and the answer is, no, he didn’t. But have you ever tried to get a hold of a dentist on a weekend – at 2 in the morning?
“Some cynics may ask why my client used a carpenter’s electric drill. Why wouldn’t he? It said on the package that the drill had 1,001 uses. Why not tooth drilling? Did the drill manufacturer bother to put a label on his product to warn innocent people like my client that it was not intended for use in dental procedures? No, sir, he did not.”
When he was through and all the dust had settled, the jury found the man innocent as a lamb, and then found against the manufacturer just for good measure. The man and his buddy walked away with $300,000. Well, a third of that went to the deserving lawyer, of course. The buddies each got $100,000 and then 40 percent of that share went to pay federal, state and local taxes.
So for a Saturday afternoon’s serious drinking and drilling and a few days in court, these two buddies netted $60,000 each.
That’s why if you pick up an electric drill in your nearby hardware store you’ll now see a prominent label attached that reads: WARNING: Not intended for use as a dental drill. It should probably also say: WARNING: Do not use if you and your buddy have been drinking since breakfast.
While doing research for this story I came across some other warning labels caused by clever lawsuits. A box containing a 500-piece puzzle now has the label: Some assembly required.
Cans of hairspray now warn: Do not smoke until hair is dry.
The manufacturer of baby lotion was compelled to warn buyers: Keep away from children.
A package of AAA batteries advises: If swallowed see doctor.
Then there’s the true story of the man in Pennsylvania who rented an authentic-looking Superman costume, put it on and then jumped out of his fifth-story bedroom window and fell to his death.
The costume now has a label with the sage advice: “This garment will not enable you to fly.”
John McDonald is the author of six books on Maine, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.