Sunday, May 27, 2012

Running and Racing Not Going To Plan? Just Sue 'Em

America, land of the free, fat, and litigious, has found an outlet for running and racing plans that don't go their way. Just sue somebody! Lawsuits have long been a tradition of our great nation - we have more lawyers per capita than any country in the world, filing over 16 million lawsuits per year. No sense in the running community being left out!

Lawsuits can often come in glorious colors, such as the frivolous insanity of suing Budweiser because their beer ads don't deliver the promise of promiscuous women, claiming emotional distress from watching women use urinals in a men's bathroom, suing a weatherman for not saying it was going to rain, going after Michael Jordan because you are tired of people saying you look like him, suing your health club for not providing a "full complimentary breakfast" as claimed, or even suing yourself from prison. American law has sound process, but the use of that law can sometimes make you scratch your head. Then again, it's the law that keeps pressure on some of those fitness product advertising claims that are, at best, in the dark end of the grey areas of promised fitness.

Here are some interesting lawsuits/settlements that have come to the running community as of late:
It's sad, really. Evidence of a system of law that allows, if not challenges, citizens to test the limits. I've often felt that "assuming risk" and being willing to take on a little adventure was the most important part of signing up for a race. You want to put yourself in a situation where anything could happen, and that's why do races, try new products, and get outside! It's a shame these lawsuits will contribute to the high cost of races, or perhaps limit the range of adventures put in front of us.

The price of freedom, I guess.

- SD


  1. Wait-- do you really think it's silly to sue a company because they make false health claims for their products?

  2. Not at all! Glad to see the FTC keeping them in check. It's a shame they have to do it so regularly.

    One can only hope the brand damage to those shoe companies, along with the penalty, is enough to compensate those who actually believed a shoe could tone a specific muscle in the ass. ;-)

  3. I cringe when I hear that people are giving up their current career to go back to law school.

    My theory is this:

    People go to law school with naive thoughts of going after the bad guys, the companies that put drunk skippers in the wheelhouse of single-hulled oil tankers and end up painting the coastline and it's cute furry mammals with oil.

    When they get out of law school they realize that there are already so many lawyers per capita in the US that all of the good Erin Brockavich jobs are taken and have droves of more experienced lawyers waiting in line for them.

    These newly minted lawyers now have huge student loans to pay off and no rockstar job fighting crime syndicates to earn those high hourly rates and retainer fees that they've heard about on TV and in the movies.

    They punt and take the ambulance chaser / frivolous lawsuit gigs because that's who's hiring. All they have to do is convince some idiot with hot coffee on his pants that he's been wronged and the big companies will start writing checks.

    Eventually some (but no enough sadly) lawyers give up this practice and move on to something else. I wish I had a good (or even witty) idea for a solution but there's no Lawyer coach who's going to shatter your dreams of someday taking the Bar exam because you could only hit .168 in high school ball.

    1. "All they have to do is convince some idiot with hot coffee on his pants that he's been wronged"

      Try to catch a viewing of "Hot Coffee", an HBO documentary ( on tort reform ( and you might not make jokes about the infamous McDonalds Hot Coffee lawsuit.

  4. I work in the legal profession and see the spectrum of good to frivolous claims. It's not just the plaintiffs who act egregious; it can be the defense side, too. But attorneys make too easy of a target, and we forget due to popular culture and the media vilifying attorneys the important, worthwhile work that I would say the majority of them do. As for assumption of risk, at some point RDs do cross the line in irresponsibility and need to be held accountable, especially in for-profit races. For example, I thought all the runners who got seriously ill from drinking contaminated water from the aid stations at the Vegas Rock N Roll marathon -- water irresponsibly pumped from fire hydrants -- should have formed a class action to sue the organizers of the race to make the RDs compensate the runners in some way for their awful experience and to make sure no marathon ever cuts corners on providing safe, clean water. The Rock N Roll race organizers are an example, in my mind, of putting profits first and runners' needs second.
    BTW the commenter above is completely wrong in the paragraph "they punt and take the ambulance chaser/frivolous lawsuit gigs because that's who's hiring." Personal injury and medical malpractice suits are quite difficult to try and are brought on contingency, meaning the attorney doesn't get paid unless there is some settlement. They're also usually from attorneys practicing solo or at small firms; they're not easy jobs to get. I know many plaintiff-side attorneys who work their asses off for months or years on behalf of a truly hurt client and wind up with a fraction of what their client needs to cover medical costs, and a fraction of what the attorney spent trying the case. It's more often the defense-side attorneys who work at big firms and are less efficient since they work on a billable hour basis rather than on contingency and thus have an economic incentive to pad their billables. OK, enough said!

  5. Sarah, if the Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon was a non-profit, how would that change the RD's responsibility or liability? None, in the legal world. Being for profit doesn't add or detract from your responsibility as a race director.

    My sense is we have come to expect our legal system to right every perceived wrong, whether any damages were accrued or not.

  6. After a couple months living in NZ, I've caught a lot of flack for our blame culture. Kiwis say they have a different way of dealing with accidents. It's called "shit happens."

  7. Scott, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable classifying some of those lawsuits as frivolous. Frivolous lawsuits certainly exist but running out of water at late aid stations ... quite easily foreseeable. It may not make the race director and race organization liable but it is a matter for the trier of fact (jury or judge) to decide.

    And as for the Vimbram lawsuits, there have been numerous articles on this case. To say that its just advertising hyperbole is a bit of a stretch. In fact there are more than a few states in the union that if it were not for some lawsuits, consumer protection would not exist.

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  9. Ha Ha. I have to agree with the last guy. As a lawyer, whose been on both sides of the personal injury spectrum (Trust me, I'm a lot more comfortable on the defense side. Presently, I am trying my darndest not to go back to that circus)
    I've found that mainstream media tends to simplify the claims made in various lawsuit so that they sound somewhat stupid and frivilous. But remember, the original idea behind lawsuits was to keep people in check. If a race director wants to put on a race, runs out of whatever food/liquid he/she promised would be available at the race, and somebody claims they suffered from the lack thereof, perhaps a jury should decide to ding him/her a few bucks to ensure it won't happen again.

    Also, let's remember that ultimately, the non-lawyers out there are the people who are feeding the bottom feeding attorneys.

    That being said, I figure anything that happens to me during these races is attributable in some way to me. But I run trail races, typically crew and pace myself, and am not above dipping into the most stagnant of water sources. I wonder if I could sue mother nature for a bad case of the runs?

  10. The last story may be the most sensational, but seems pretty reasonable to me. She's not claiming emotional distress, she broke her wrist and leg. If somebody runs a red light and t-bones me, resulting in me suffering multiple broken bones, I wouldn't think twice about seeking compensation from their estate even if they died in the accident. Basically the same concept.

  11. I think suing a shoe company is silly for advertising. If the shoe had a defect and was seriously hurting people that would be one thing. Expecting a shoe to tone your thighs is like expecting p90x to work just by pushing play on the DVD player.
    And the lady that is suing a dead girl that is just nuts.
    Injuries on the other hand those somewhat understandable.

  12. I was trying to think of that word for lawsuits, and it finally popped into my head, "frivolous!"

  13. This got to be the most bizzare running related post, not you but those people, that I have ever read!! What happen to live freely but don't die while trying! Sign up and take your own risk~~

    Enjoy your blog.

    Happy Running!!


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