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Kreller Group
Kreller's Int'l Credit Reports

Creditworthy News - 03/12/14 Edition


By David Balovich

While washing my hands at a local restaurant, and for whatever reason the sign familiar to all of us that we never really pay much attention to caught my attention. You're familiar with the one I'm speaking of: "employees must wash hands before returning to work"; and I thought to myself as I have often before, "does that mean a non-employee does not have to practice personal hygiene"? Of course, the larger question is why does this sign require posting at all? Isn't it common sense that a person handling food would practice personal hygiene, without being told or reminded, whether using the washroom or not?


As a society we have become accustomed and complacent with having to read and/or post warning signs and labels dealing with everyday applications that should be second nature to us, I refer to them as "common sense" situations. The fact that these postings are required at all causes one to assume that we have truly become a society of sheep that cannot think or perform without being told or reminded what they should or should not do along with the ramifications of their actions.


Do we all remember Stella Liebeck? The 79 year old Albuquerque woman who sued the McDonalds Corporation in 1992 over spilled hot coffee? Ms. Lieback, upon purchasing a cup of hot coffee, placed the styrofoam cup between her knees while sitting in an automobile, so she could add cream and sugar to her hot beverage. It spilled and resulted in burns to her legs and thighs.


A jury awarded her $2.9 million in punitive damages and McDonalds was ordered to place a warning label on its coffee cups advising customers that coffee was hot and could result in injury if spilled due to its temperature. Who would imagine that hot liquids may cause injuries especially when placed on a stable surface such as between one's knees? As the comedian Bill Engvall would say "and here's your sign". But it gets better, after having this warning label on their coffee cups for over twenty years, here comes another person who requires special attention. Although the cup contained the required warning ordered by the court, Paulette Carr of Van Nuys, California, just last month filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against the McDonalds corporation for, you guessed it, a hot beverage she purchased in 2012 also spilled from her cup and burned her as well. I suppose the court now, in this case, will require that whoever serves the beverage will be required to read the warning label before handing over the beverage to the purchaser.


In 2013 a judge ruled that the Riddell Corporation (a leading manufacturer of football safety equipment and helmets) was negligent in failing to warn the teams and players that purchased and used its equipment that regardless of the fact the purpose of the equipment was to protect the player from injury, the company was negligent because they failed to inform the wearer of such equipment that the game of football was a dangerous sport that could lead to serious injury. In addition to the large punitive fine assessed the company, Riddell now has to place a warning label on their equipment informing the person who buys and/or wears their equipment of the dangers associated with the game of football and that the use of its equipment may not fully protect the wearer from injury or death.


Really? Wouldn't common sense dictate that if one had an individual who weighed in excess of 300 pounds and was nicknamed "the refrigerator" running towards them with the intent to impede their forward progress by hitting them with their full weight and the object of "the refrigerators" pursuit weighed less that regardless of what the individual was wearing, that the individual might be susceptible to injury or worse? (I will divulge here that my wife is employed by a sister company of the Riddell corporation which also manufacturers safety equipment for bicycle, ski, and motorsports enthusiasts).


The United States is such a litigious society (American law schools graduate 900,000 students annually) that because virtually every company has been or is a candidate to a lawsuit that they have placed some of the dumbest warnings or instructions on their products either voluntarily or by court order. The following are a few examples found on products around my home and office:


On a box of matches --- "contents may catch fire".


On a puzzle box --- "some assembly required".


On the power lawnmower --- "do not attempt to remove the blade when lawnmower is running".


On the garden hose --- "may cause cancer in California". Not sure why California was singled out of 50 venues.


On the dogs' heartworm medicine --- "use care when operating a car". Not to worry, her license is presently suspended.


On my office phone --- "to answer a call, lift handset; to place a call, lift handset & dial number; to end a call, hang up handset".


On a carton of ice cream --- "ice cream is cold".


On a bottle of ketchup --- "to be used only on food".


On the electric hairdryer --- "do not use while taking a shower".


On a bottle of sleeping aids --- "may cause drowsiness".


On a deodorant stick --- "use only on underarms".


On the TV remote control --- "not dishwasher safe".


On the satellite dish --- "do not attempt to install if drunk or pregnant".


On the automobile fuel compartment latch --- "never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level".


On the automobile windshield sunshade --- "remove sunshade before operating vehicle".


Years ago while serving in the Navy I recall two memorable signs that I spied in the latrine and on an explosive device. In the latrine there was a sign over the urinals that read "don't eat the soap cakes" and on a claymore anti-personal mine there was a yellow shaded section with skull and crossbones that read "do not eat". In the years I served I never encountered a sailor who would consider eating either one, although there were a couple of Marines......


The credit profession is not exempt from this madness. Although we are required to post notices at times concerning the debtors' rights, will we also eventually suffer the outcome of frivolous lawsuits and be required to supplement common sense and post similar dumb warnings?


Already collection agencies and attorneys are required to put a notice on their written communications to debtors that the purpose of their letter is to collect a debt lest someone confuse the writing as just a friendly greeting to ask how one has been.


Perhaps in the near future we will be required to place a warning on the credit application stating that applying for or obtaining credit can be a detriment to ones' financial health or that too much credit can lead to insolvency and/or a poor credit rating. Or perhaps placing a notice on a bill or statement that payment made beyond the terms shown on the bill could lead to a reduction or loss of credit availability and be communicated to other vendors. Actually, I know of several companies today who already have such notices on their invoices and statements.


Simply stated, we no longer take responsibility for our actions that may lead to bad things that occur to us due to our failure to use proper judgment or common sense. We have, and the courts have affirmed, taken the position that unless we have first been warned beforehand that responsibility falls on the other person or company. But even then that does not prevent the Paulette Carr's of the world to continue to place the blame on others rather than take the responsibility for their actions that cause bad things to happen to themselves and/or others.


At what point do we, as a society, start recognizing that we have choices and free will and use common sense, start accepting the responsibility for our actions, and stop pointing the finger at others for our poor judgment? It seems to this observer that the older we become the more we behave like children.

I wish you well.

David Balovich is an author, business credit consultant, educator, and public speaker and has written for the Creditworthy News for over a decade. He can be contacted at 3jmcompany@gmail.com.

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