Microwavable soup containers are causing burns to toddlers and adults, according to doctors working in hospital emergency rooms. What follows is a friendly discussion between two tort experts at a local diner.
Tort Reform Tom: I can’t believe this. These greedy so-called "victims" are suing for spilling hot chicken soup from a microwavable container all over themselves!
Safety Sam: Of course the victims are suing. What do you expect them to do when a bunch of medical journals have reported for at least 5 years that many of the microwave containers that hold chicken soup or noodles are spilled on 3 year olds, giving them burns requiring hospital care?
Tort Reform Tom: This is what I’m talkin’ about: Every time someone gets hurt and it’s their own fault, they want to blame someone else like the product sellers. We need tort reform to protect the microwavable container manufacturers and the sellers from frivolous burn lawsuits. People burn people, not hot microwaved noodles.
Safety Sam: So, Tom, I take it you just want to padlock the courthouse doors and give immunity to all of the manufacturers and sellers no matter what they sell, huh?
Tort Reform Tom: What I am saying is it’s not the hot container that’s dangerous. It’s the parents and their little kids who spill the hot soup or hot noodles all over themselves. That’s why we need to give tort reform to these sellers.
Safety Sam: Does it matter that you might be a little biased because you run a manufacturing company?
Tort Reform Tom: That has nothing to do with it. I'm creating jobs, and my business needs to compete with Chinese companies and all the rest of them. Our jackpot justice system is bringing us down.
Safety Sam: So let me get this straight. Even if hundreds of kids go to hospitals with burns because the shape of these microwavable containers makes them so easy to knock over, you don’t think the seller or manufacturer has any responsibility?
Tort Reform Tom: That’s right. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
Safety Sam: Well, what about if the remedy is really simple, like simply making the containers shorter and fatter instead of tall and thin?
Tort Reform Tom: That’s going to cost the manufacturers and sellers a lot of money. An, anway, a design change doesn't stop the suits from being frivolous. No matter what the soup or noodle container loos like, the consumer still has to cause it to tip over and get the stuff on their skin to suffer a second-degree burn.
Safety Sam: Tom, sometimes I think you like to spout off but don’t think about stuff that can happen.
Tom’s cell phone rings. It's his wife.
Tort Reform Tom: Susan, have you bought Amanda any of these Cup Noodle Soup containers these frivolous burn lawsuits are being filed over?
Susan: Hey, that Cup Noodle is my favorite soup, and I’ve been feeding it to Amanda for months. Why?
Tort Reform Tom: Don’t buy that soup anymore. I've been talking to Sam about a bunch of lawsuits over kids getting serious burns.
Susan: Why didn’t you tell me about this before?
Safety Sam: Tom, you sound a bit like a hypocrite to me.
Tort Reform Tom: There’s a difference between the frivolous lawsuits and what I’m talking about with Susan. I am not a lottery plaintiff, and I am just trying to prevent anything from happening in the future.
Editor’s note: In December 2011 National Public Radio highlighted the dangers of burns from spilled microwavable soup containers because of the ease with which they are knocked over. NPR canvassed hospitals nationwide and found that three to six burn cases each week involved spilled noodle or soup containers. Another report in a peer-reviewed medical journal also highlighted this danger..
When a way to reduce a known and serious injury risk is as readily available as simply changing the shape of a container, the reason the tort system works becomes apparent. Because the economic penalty placed on manufacturers and sellers who refuse to make easy fixes to protect consumers can be so high, companies have motivation to make positive changes to their products.This salubrious effect of the civil tort system is unmatched anywhere outside the United States.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.