Where’s your common sense?


By Henry Tacio

Thomas Paine, in 1776, wrote a pamphlet entitled Common Sense.  When it was first published, there was no author; “Written by an Englishman” were the only words found.

Nonetheless, it became an immediate success.

Common sense is defined by Merriam-Webster as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”

As such, “common sense,” in this view, equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way.”

Whichever definition is used, identifying particular items of knowledge as “common sense” is difficult.

Common-sense ideas tend to relate to events within human experience (such as good will), and thus appear commensurate with human scale.

Humans lack any common-sense intuition of, for example, the behavior of the universe at subatomic distances, or of speeds approaching that of light.

Often ideas that may be considered to be true by common sense are in fact false.

Conversely, certain ideas that are subject to elaborate academic analysis are oftentimes yield superior outcomes via the application of common sense.

So, what’s the point?  Nothing, except that I received an e-mail from a friend about the Stella Awards.  The awards, if you care to know, are ranked lists of personal injury lawsuits that, on their face, are frivolous but resulted in large damage awards in the United States.

“If you think the court system is out of control and America has lost all common sense, be sure to pass this on,” said the end of the message.

The originators of these lists choose to remain anonymous. The reference to “Stella” comes from Stella Liebeck, now deceased, who, in 1992, ordered a cup of McDonald’s coffee at a drive thru, took off the lid and put it in between her knees while sitting in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car.

The 180 to 190°F (82 to 88°C) coffee spilled from the cup, causing third degree burns.  The lawsuits are documented by Colorado writer Randy Cassingham.

There are seven people listed but allow me to feature just four of them.  Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peer after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store.

The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.

Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania, was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage.

Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open.

Worse, he couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut.

Forced to sit for eight, count them, 8 days and survive on a case of soft drinks and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner’s insurance company claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish.

A jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone.

The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument. What ever happened to people being responsible for their own actions?

Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth.

Even though Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge.  The jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000 – plus dental expenses. Go figure.

“For the most part, the Stella awards lawsuits are a complete fiction,” wrote Jim Flynn, a private attorney, in an article which appeared in The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

“In circumstances where there actually was a lawsuit, the description of the lawsuit is incomplete and/or false in important ways.”

Flynn further wrote: “Although there is plenty of room for criticism as to how our legal system deals with injury-causing accidents, the reality is that frivolous lawsuits are rarely filed and almost never result in an irrational damage award.

Personal injury lawyers know better than to take on cases that require lots of work but offer little chance of reward. Furthermore, juries are not easily fooled and, if a jury does run amuck, trial court judges and appellate courts have authority to set aside or modify a verdict.”

I rest my case, your honor.

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