Why Dennis Kucinich’s frivolous olive pit lawsuit matters

Bob Dorigo Jones Senior Fellow, The Center for America
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Did you see the report in The Daily Caller on Wednesday about Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich suing a cafeteria on Capitol Hill for $150,000 over a sandwich he purchased there nearly three years ago? Kucinich claims he hurt his tooth by biting into an olive pit that was part of his vegetarian sandwich, and now he wants to settle this in the courts. Ughh!

There is so much wrong with this lawsuit that I hardly know where to begin, but here are some of the reasons why Americans should care about this.

As taxpayers, we all pay for premium dental coverage for Kucinich and all members of Congress. Surely, it has to be some of the best dental care in the world. Has the congressman opted out of this coverage? Or, does he still have the coverage and want to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his dental care?

We don’t know because Kucinich’s attorney has stated that this is a “private matter.” Neither he nor Kucinich will comment.

Well, when you’re a member of the United States House of Representatives and file a lawsuit like this, it’s not going to remain a private matter. It shouldn’t be a private matter. There are a lot of reasons why Americans deserve to know more and why we should be disturbed by this lawsuit.

Even if the congressman wants to seek reimbursement for the cost of his dental work to save taxpayers from having to foot the bill for this, there are better ways to accomplish that. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the cafeteria was somehow responsible. Did he try talking with them about some sort of settlement before suing? If that didn’t work, did he try low-cost facilitative mediation (which is much different from court-ordered mediation)?

I suspect he didn’t offer to take this to mediation in an effort to save the cafeteria or the food suppliers he also sued from the aggravation and expense of having to hire a lawyer to defend themselves. If he had, that would make him look at least somewhat sympathetic to America’s struggling job providers who must deal with frivolous lawsuits on a regular basis, and he would probably be declaring that from the rooftop of Congress.

At least one lawyer has said that the pit in the sandwich was foreseeable and therefore is not grounds for a lawsuit. I agree, but of course, this is what lawyers argue about and is the legal theory on which Kucinich will hang his hat.

There’s a larger point to be made here, however. There used to be a time when lawsuits over minor injuries were filed only as a last resort. Not anymore, and that’s part of the problem in our country. It’s a major reason why every American pays a “lawsuit tax” of nearly $2,000 per year — even if we’re never sued.

Many of us have bitten into food, hurt a tooth, and chosen NOT to sue. These things happen. It’s part of life. You get the tooth fixed and move on — especially if you have dental coverage. If you don’t have coverage, there are options like mediation if you really must push the issue. And even if you’re going to push it, how do you arrive at damages worth $150,000? Really?

As the creator of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, one of the first things I did after hearing about this lawsuit was check the label on the jar of pitted olives in my refrigerator. These olives have big red pimentos in them where the pit used to be. Do you think there’s a warning? Of course there is. It says: “May contain pits.”

I wish obvious warnings like that weren’t necessary in the United States, but lawsuits like the one filed by Congressman Kucinich unfortunately show us why they are.

Bob Dorigo Jones, who serves as Senior Fellow for the Center for America, is the author of the bestselling Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever. He is the host of a new national radio/Internet commentary, “Let’s Be Fair.”