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Jewish World Review April 5, 2000 /29 Adar II, 5760 , 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Consumer Reports



What litigation has done --
IN TEXAS, the estate of a woman who drowned in her car won a $65 million verdict against the manufacturer, Honda of America. The jury found that Honda was 75 percent responsible for her death based on the following facts: The driver drove off a boat ramp into the water and then drowned attempting to remove her seat belt. Her blood alcohol level was found to be nearly twice the legal limit.

More? In Hawaii, a jury awarded $2.1 million to Eddie Gonsalves. Gonsalves was fired from his job at Infiniti-Nissan after a female fellow employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. In his suit, Gonsalves claimed that the company breached its promise that his job would not be affected by the investigation.

After the verdict in Gonsalves' favor, the president of Nissan Motor Corporation in Hawaii, Eric Miyasaki, protested that the company had scrupulously followed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines for investigating harassment claims, but that the court had found these non-binding. "If this decision is allowed to stand," Miyasaki told the website, "Hawaii employers receiving complaints of harassment will have to choose whether they want to risk liability for ignoring the complaint or risk liability for doing what the sexual harassment law says they must do."

The influence of litigation, or the fear of it, permeates society from top to bottom. Smith and Wesson, fearing litigation, signed an agreement with the federal government to do things that it would not otherwise have done. Cigarette manufacturers have been strong-armed into a series of costly concessions by the gang-up of state attorneys general and a handful of wealthy plaintiffs' lawyers.

No aspect of life is untouched by lawyers. Hiking in the Alps a few years ago, I was struck by the absence of warning signs or fences. In a place where one wrong step could send you tumbling thousands of feet to your death, the Swiss rely on people's common sense to guide them. I haven't been to the Rockies lately, but I'll bet there are safety fences all over the place, as well as warnings about steep drops.

Even the Girl Scouts of America, an organization one might have expected to instill good judgment and self-reliance, appears to have been taken over by lawyers. Here is a lengthy excerpt from a "horse rental agreement and liability release form" prepared for Girl Scouts embarking on a wilderness adventure:

"I understand that horseback riding is classified as rugged adventure recreational sport activity, and that there are numerous obvious and non-obvious inherent risks always present in such activity despite all safety precautions. According to NEISS (National Electronic Injury Surveillance Systems of U.S. Consumer Products), horse activities rank 64th among the activities of people relative to injuries that result in a stay at U.S. hospitals. ... I/We further understand that applicant may be participating in a "Wilderness Experience" and that the meaning of this term is defined as follows: The pursuit of adventure or activity in a wild, rugged and uncultivated area or region, as of forest and/or hills and/or mountains and/or plains and/or wetlands, which would likely be uninhabited by people and inhabited by wild animals of many types and species to include, but not limited to, mammals, reptiles and insects, which are not tame, may be savage and unpredictable in nature, and also wandering at their will.

"I understand that this stable chooses its rental horses for their calm dispositions ... yet no horse is a completely safe horse. Horses are five to 15 times larger, 20 to 40 times more powerful, and three to four times faster than a human. If a rider falls to the ground, it will generally be from a distance of from 3 feet to 5 feet, and the impact may result in injury to the rider. Horseback riding is the only sport where one much smaller, weaker predator animal (human) tries to impose its will on another much larger, stronger prey animal with a mind of its own (horse) and each has a limited understanding of the other. ..."

How far are from the day when horses (prey animal) will be granted the right to sue?

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate