“A look at the study data shows that lawyer-legislators are indeed very unlikely to support any reform that is considered restrictive to the legal profession.”

Americans are litigious. We love to sue each other over the craziest and most mundane things. Other countries marvel in astonishment at some of the trivial matters that end up in US courts, like this one, the case of the unwanted cheese.

A couple in South Florida, Cynthia Kissner and Leonard Werner, did not want cheese on their burgers when they ordered two McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese and they did not want to pay full price for ‘cheeseless’ burgers. There are two key words here, “with” and “cheese,” so the cashier got the order right. The cooks left the cheese off per the couple’s request, but they were charged the full price for the burgers. The bottom line is that a Quarter Pounder with Cheese comes with, you guessed it, cheese.

Apparently, the cashier held firm, and Kissner and Werner paid the full price, but then in true American fashion, the cheese-disliking dynamic duo sued McDonald’s over the incident.

In fact, they sued big time by launching a $5 million lawsuit, hoping it would become a class action suit. McDonald’s immediately filed a motion against the lawsuit. But judge William Dimitrouleas dismissed the lawsuit in a US District Court, and he even filed his ruling with prejudice, meaning Kissner and Werner cannot file the suit at a later date.

The couple started their argument in May after paying full price for their burgers. The premise of their argument was that “hamburgers and cheeseburgers have different prices, so why are we forced to pay for cheese when we order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?”

Kissner and Werner’s lawsuit recapped McDonald’s entire history of Quarter Pounder menu items. Apparently, the Golden Arches used to have four different Quarter Pounder options on the menu, two of which were sans cheese, and therefore were 30 to 90 cents cheaper than the cheese-laden options. At some point (which was not heralded as a significant historic moment in American history), McDonald’s began selling only the one option that forced people to buy the burger with cheese.

This means McDonald’s charged the couple at the most about one dollar more than they thought they should be, yet they sued the corporation for $5 million for pain and suffering of having to endure this outrageous dairy nightmare. The lawsuit actually claimed this, as originally reported by the Miami Herald: “McDonald’s is being unjustly enriched by these practices because it receives payment for cheese it does not deliver to its customers.”

The couple claimed they suffered injury as a result of being overcharged for the cheese, and were clearly due $5 million for that pain. Judge Dimitrouleas, clearly a closet cheese lover, did not agree, stating that the plaintiffs had not proved they had been egregiously harmed by the cheese caper and concluded that the couple’s lawsuit was “absurd.”

The judge’s official ruling stated this: “Under any common sense analysis, there is no market for a customer to come into a McDonald’s restaurant and order a slice or two of cheese as a product that is separate, distinct, and independent from any other product or menu item. Nor is there a separate product market for a customer to order a slice of tomato, or a slice of lettuce, or a slice of pickle.”

Well said, judge, well said.

Why Are Americans So Litigious?

Some say that with any constitutional democracy, lawsuits are inevitable because citizens have a right to fairness. But in America, so many issues of sheer common sense end up in court. In the New York Times, Paul H. Rubin states that the US is easily the most litigious society in the world, spending about $1,000 for each American on lawsuits. About half of the money goes to pay legal fees.

Why do we do it? What drives us to sue the living daylights out of each other? A lot of it has to do with how the laws are shaped and who is shaping them.

A very interesting Swiss study examined the role that lawyer-legislators have in shaping the law. And by lawyer-legislators, the researchers mean the US Congress. They looked at the 1995-2014 voting records of legislators with a professional background as an attorney. Their research premise was that by legislating on statutory law, these congressmen can affect the very basis of their profession in a way that is, of course, favorable to the profession at large. And with laws that allow Americans to sue each other over every little thing, people will naturally just go ahead and do it.

A look at the study data shows that lawyer-legislators are indeed very unlikely to support any reform that is considered restrictive to the legal profession. This is particularly true of tort law, and the lawyer-legislators are much more likely to keep the litigious nature than to reduce litigiousness like their non-lawyer legislator counterparts do.

Tort law enables people to seek compensation for wrongs committed against them. It includes physical harm, property harm and even reputation harm. Damages can be awarded for personal injury, property damage or financial loss, but thankfully there are many common sense lawyer-legislators out there who agree that $5 million in pain and suffering money does not add up because you were wronged by a slice (or two) of cheese.

A note to Kissner and Werner: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

 

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