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Sep 14, 2004

Reducing lawsuit abuse

by Jamie Court
The following commentary was broadcast on the National Public Radio show Marketplace on Tuesday September 14, 2004. Click here to listen to the commentary. Scroll down to "Reducing lawsuit abuse".
Host, David Brown: Lawmakers in the House took up what they call the "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act" and other related bills today in what some GOP sponsors are calling "Lawsuit Abuse Week." The focus is limiting cases brought by consumers. Commentator and consumer activist Jamie Court argues if you are talking frivolity, consumers may be the wrong target.

Jamie Court: I'm the first to admit that lawsuit abuse can be a problem. But it's corporations, not individuals, that are out of control.

See, you don't hear too much about frivolous corporate litigation. That's because big business pays to publicize other things-like ambulance chasers out to bankrupt America.

Well, here's some corporate lawsuit abuses that belong on the Simpson's, not in the American justice system.

Allstate sued Kraft Foods, the maker of the Toastette toaster pastry, and Pop-Tart creator Kellogg to avoid having to pay homeowners' fire claims. Allstate claimed Kraft and Kellogg were responsible for the fires by making dangerous, flammable toaster pastries. Who knew exploding pop tarts were a greater threat than exploding pintos?

Mattel sued artist Tom Forsythe for his photographs of Barbie in poses the toymaker claimed defamed her character. The company also sued recording label MCA when musical group Aqua released the song "Barbie Girl." The company claimed MCA defamed the doll with sexual innuendo. Both suits were dismissed. Talking about toying with the law.

Kellogg's sued the owners of Toucan Golf for trademark infringement. It claimed that Toucan Golf's club-swinging bird would damage the Toucan Sam logo for Froot Loops cereal. A court found that no one could possibly confuse breakfast cereal with nine irons.

Then there's Caterpillar. It sued the Walt Disney Company for portraying bulldozers in a bad light. Caterpillar tried to block the release of "George of the Jungle 2. Needless to say the judge didn't find Caterpillar's case "earth-moving"

So why doesn't Congress pass a law banning these type of frivolous cases? I guess toaster pastry fans, artists, and George of the Jungle enthusiasts just don't have the juice on Capitol Hill.

In Los Angeles, this is Jamie Court for Marketplace.

Consumer activist Jamie Court is author of Corporateering.

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