In this age of endless lawsuits and litigation from everyone suing everyone else, one must ask the question "where does product liability end and consumer responsibility begin?" This question has been further complicated by occurrences that stretch to the most far-reaching ends of this spectrum, the spectrum ranging from strict product liability of the company to complete consumer responsibility. On the strict product liability of the company side, we have the cigarette industry where the CEOs of the largest cigarette companies denied that their product was liable for the cause of addiction. Almost all consumers know that the ingredient nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, due to extensive scientific testing and reports on this fact. What these CEO's should have done was admit that they knew nicotine was addictive, and therefore made their product liable so as to give a fair warning to unknowing consumers. On the complete consumer responsibility side, we can examine the lawsuit where a man sued McDonald's for over a million dollars because he spilled a cup of their coffee on his self and suffered burns. He claimed that McDonald's was liable because there was not a warning on the lid that stated that the coffee was hot. In my opinion, this lawsuit should have never happened. The consumer is attempting to alleviate all of the responsibility from himself for spilling his coffee and pass it on to the producer of the product. Frivolous lawsuits such as this, as well as companies failing to consider the importance of product liability, have resulted in an increasing annual product liability bill. Last year alone $4 billion was spent on product liability lawsuits and settlements (McAdams, p.636). This staggering number suggests that maybe we need to reform our liability system. Ideally, we as a society would like to reach a happy medium between strict product liability of the company and complete consumer responsibility. If this occurred, lawsuits such as this would no longer drain our legal systems because an understanding would exist that the responsibility rests equally in both parties' hands. However, that is an ideal situation, which rarely ever occurs in the real world. In the real world, tradeoffs must be made in order to reach equilibrium. These tradeoffs between strict product liability and consumer responsibility will be discussed in light of the situation of Alejandro Phillips, as well as in correlation to new laws which have been passed regarding product liability and product liability lawsuits.
To understand the case of Alejandro Phillips v. Columbia Pictures, it is very important to look at the arguments and points that can be made by both sides. First, I will examine the legal claims of Mr. Phillips. The main argument made by Mr. Phillips was that Columbia Pictures was negligent in how they marketed and advertised the movie Boyz N the Hood. He argued that the movie's advertising falsely represented the movie by depicting only the main scenes of violence and leaving out the pacifist themes at the heart of the movie. Mr. Phillips obviously believes that this false representation is what caused the violence that lead to him being shot outside the theatre at the showing of this movie. Now the question is whether or not Mr. Phillips's arguments have any root in the legal realm. Can a company be held liable for leading consumers down the wrong path, whether intentionally or not? According to the verdict reached in Denny v. Ford Motor Company, yes, "Ads and marketing materials can subject manufacturers to litigation and, ultimately, to liability" (Giliberti, p. 53). In this case, the Denny family was suing Ford because of a flipping incident that occurred in the Denny's Bronco II while driving on normal roads. Ford argued that they were not liable because the Bronco II is supposed to be used primarily for off road driving. "In response, the Dennys introduced a Ford marketing manual...
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