Saying nice things about trial attorneys is not the surest way to win friends in the insurance industry. Yet even in the heated debate over tort reform, it should be acceptable to acknowledge when the other side might have a valid point.
The American Trial Lawyers Association has fought attempts to curb what the insurance industry and others claim is a crisis of frivolous lawsuits by consumers. Trial attorneys argue there is no such crisis and object that the tort reformers want to restrict the rights of consumers to sue. But what about suits by businesses? Most tort reform advocates ignore the questionable lawsuits brought by businesses. “Why should businesses have the courts to themselves?” ATLA asks. Among the “ridiculous” business suits cited by ATLA:
Fox News sued comedian Al Franken for using the term “Fair and Balanced” on his book cover. The judge threw out the case, labeling it “wholly without merit, both factually and legally.”
In 1998, Enterprise Rent-A-Car sued Rent-A-Wreck and Hertz for using the phrase “pick you up,” claiming that “We’ll pick you up” is Enterprise’s slogan. Enterprise argued that the phrase means more than “we’ll give you a ride”; it means “we’ll pick up your spirits.”
Victoria’s Secret went all the way to the Supreme Court to catch Victor’s Little Secret, a shop selling sex toys in a Kentucky strip mall. Victor Moseley named the shop after himself.
Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, has been waging war against unsanctioned use of the doll’s name, suing the founders of the “Barbie Makes a Wish,” which raises money for critically ill children; artist Paul Hansen, sued for $1.2 billion for making $2,000 from the sale of his Exorcist Barbie, Tonya Harding Barbie, and Drag Queen Barbie; and MCA Records Inc. for the song “Barbie Girl.” The song includes the lyrics, “I’m a blonde bimbo in a fantasy world/Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly.”
In 1989 Walt Disney Company used a lawsuit to force a public apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an “unflattering” representation of Snow White in the opening sequence of the 1989 Academy Awards ceremony.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, in its corporate lawsuit abuse list, cites a case in which 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 flammable pastries.
Also, Caterpillar sued the Walt Disney company for portraying bulldozers in a bad light. Caterpillar tried to block the release of “George of the Jungle 2,” claiming that the film gave the company a bad name because its machines are used to attack the jungle.
The executives who brought these suits no doubt saw these matters as serious threats to their businesses. Or maybe a corporate lawyer convinced them they were.