Aw, hell no!

“Jonathon, NO!” I grabbed for my three-year-old’s hand and pulled him back from the curb. His other hand was held by his aunt, who was so busy talking to my wife that she didn’t notice that Jonathon was about to step off of the curb right into the path of a car that was turning right. Fortunately, Jonathon was well trained and froze when I yelled. “No” is one of the most powerful words in any language. It’s right up there with mama and dada in terms of words we first learn. But there are different levels of no. There’s “No, you may not have another cookie” and then there’s “Aw, hell no!” As in your fifteen-year-old daughter wants to go on an unchaperoned overnight camping trip with her sixteen-year-old boyfriend. As a nation, we’ve gotten very lax about saying no. Exhibit A is that increasing numbers of college students are suffering from depression due to their helicopter parents who seem unable to say the n word. We need to reclaim the power of this handy monosyllabic barrier to stupidity.

The first place we should start is in the court system. Before anyone can proceed with a lawsuit, they should have to appear before the “Aw, hell no!” judge. This judicial position should be filled by an ordinary citizen. Someone selected at random, just like it is with jury duty. And just like jury duty, they should get paid. The money can come from an increase in filing fees. For one day, this person would sit and listen to both sides in a lawsuit. Plaintiff and defendant would each get five minutes to explain the merits of their case. No lawyers allowed. Just two people explaining why they think they should or should not owe somebody some money. “Get Over It” by The Eagles would be required theme music.

A woman puts a cup of McDonald’s coffee between her legs, it spills, and now she wants two million dollars for burn marks? Aw, hell no! Two guys use a lawnmower as a hedge trimmer and now want a million dollars per missing finger because Briggs and Stratton didn’t tell them that rotating mower blades are dangerous? Not just no, but hell no! A company doesn’t want to pay damages from shrapnel shot out during an airbag deployment? Hell yes, you pay!

The beauty of this new legal apparatus is that common sense, not just the law, will come back into our legal system. The key will be that whoever loses at the Aw, Hell No! court will be required to pay legal costs for proceeding with the lawsuit. The Aw, Hell No! court won’t prevent lawsuits. It will just assign temporary billing status. At the end of the lawsuit, judges and juries can still assign settlements that will include legal fees. But for the lawsuit to proceed, the plaintiff will have to present prima fascia evidence they have a good case.

England doesn’t have a problem with nuisance lawsuits because the plaintiff always pays. However, because companies have deep pockets, they can get away with all sorts of mischief unless their targets are wealthy. The recent scandals in England concerning Rupert Murdoch’s journalistic excesses and parliamentary pedophilia show what happens when ordinary citizens can’t afford legal remedies. Civil lawsuits are the only remedy to protect people from the rich and well-connected. For a legal system to be just, it is important that even poor people and the dispossessed, such as those in prison, still have access to the civil courts.

However, things are out of control in this country. Lawyers use contingency fees as cover for clogging the courts with all sorts of nonsense, from pickles burning lips to convicts suing over train whistles. Lawyers form companies that spend all of their time looking for clients so they can use the cost of litigation to extort money from corporate America. The trick is to find a balance between the rights of ordinary people and the rich. Between those who can afford lawyers and those who can’t. The Aw, Hell No! court achieves that balance. A company being sued that loses in the Aw, Hell No! court will have to pay for the plaintiff’s legal fees. If the plaintiff loses, then he or she pays. Lawyers will still work for contingency fees but only on cases they are confident in winning. Otherwise, their client’s legal fee comes out of their own pocket. And if it gets lawyers to stop advertising, well that’s just a bonus. If I hear one more ad trolling for pelvic mesh patients, I’m going to get rid of my satellite dish. People who slip and fall on icy sidewalks should get better shoes, not a cash settlement courtesy of a daytime TV advertising ambulance chaser.

Because the fact of the matter is that we all pay for this ridiculous state of affairs. Lots of items cost consumers more because of all the lawyers companies have to hire to scrutinize every aspect of daily life while looking for potential lawsuits. Simple items like ladders cost $15-$20 more than they should due to businesses having to pay someone to affix warning labels on ladders. And these are common sense warnings like: “Climb down off of the ladder before moving it.” Why should you and I have to pay to prevent some Darwin Award candidate from trying to walk on a ladder like it’s a pair of stilts? Or pay for him or her to sit in a chair watching TV for the rest of their lives?

This judicial remedy will not only save consumers and taxpayers money. It will also reduce government interference in our lives. The next time some busybody in Silver Springs, Maryland wants to arrest parents for letting their kids walk home from a park, the family will have a quick and easy legal remedy. Should letting school age kids walk alone on public streets be considered child abuse? Not just no, but hell no! And the city should pay for its stupidity.