It's America's latest fast-food riddle: Q: When does a pickle equal $125,000? A: When it's the basis of a high-priced lawsuit.
That's right. A pickle. Just the latest in a string of dangerous products that personal injury lawyers are saving us from, while liberating huge sums of money from unsuspecting businesses.
A Tennessee woman and her husband have filed a $125,000 lawsuit claiming a hot pickle from a McDonald's hamburger burned her chin.
Veronica Martin of Knoxville is seeking $110,000 as payment for medical bills, lost wages, and the physical and mental pain and anguish she allegedly has suffered. Her husband Darrin wants an additional $15,000 because "he has been deprived of the services and consortium of his wife."
In other words, the resulting abrasion from the hot pickle apparently sent their love life into a deep freeze. A trial date has been set for May 9.
Asked if she was filing a frivolous lawsuit, the Martin's attorney replied, "Not at all. No hesitation."
Well, maybe some hesitation.
The hamburger incident happened a year ago. The lawyer just got around to filing the lawsuit. No hesitation? How long does it take to know if you've been injured?
Part of the pickle, if you'll pardon the pun, is that there are few barriers to filing frivolous lawsuits and virtually no consequences to filing groundless lawsuits.
In court papers filed earlier this month McDonald's has asked that the case be dismissed and that the Martin's pay McDonald's legal costs.
Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern has said that a quarter of all civil lawsuits filed in the United States are either frivolous or fraudulent.
Yet, lawyers are rarely sanctioned for burdening the courts with such suits. Surveys repeatedly show the public wants judges to crack down on frivolous lawsuits by tossing them out of court and fining the lawyers who file them. Yet that rarely happens. In most frivolous cases, judges either dismiss the suit or force the opposing lawyer to win the case before a jury and then file a counterclaim.
Faced with a frivolous lawsuit, most defendants will settle for nuisance value or fight to have the case dismissed rather than continue to plow money into legal fees with the scant hope of ever recovering a dime. Even some prominent plaintiffs' lawyers agree that we need stronger medicine to fight junk lawsuits.
For McDonald's, this has to be getting pretty old.
A couple of years ago a man sued McDonald's for injuries he sustained in an auto accident with one of their customers.
The accident victim claimed that the customer who hit him did so after spilling the contents of his recently purchased chocolate milk shake onto his lap while reaching over for McDonald's fries.
His attorney alleged the fast-food chain sold the customer shake and fries knowing he would consume them while driving, and was derelict for failing to formally warn him not to eat and drive at the same time.
While the court concluded McDonald's was not at fault, it refused the chains request that the plaintiff pay its attorney fees. The judge noted that the plaintiffs' attorney was "creative, imaginative and shouldn't be penalized for that."
This case was in the court system for three years, underwent appellate review and cost McDonalds over $10,000.00. Ultimately, it was McDonalds patrons who were penalized.
People are angrier about frivolous lawsuits than politicians may think. Our web site - received more than 83,000 hits the first two days after the hot pickle lawsuit story broke.
It's time for meaningful reform. We may not be able to legislate common sense, but we can certainly stop rewarding the ridiculous.
In the meantime, McDonald's best option may be to hold the pickles.
Jon Opelt is director of the Houston-based legal watchdog group, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.