Stressed out? You can probably sue someone for that

image Recently, a federal jury in Billings, Mont., awarded $1 million to a woman who said she suffered from post-traumatic stress after her Delta Airlines jet made an emergency landing in November of 2011. The case gained attention because it opens the floodgate for other post-traumatic stress lawsuits, which includes anyone who has ever ridden in a taxi in downtown New York.

Though I never suffered anything as severe as post-traumatic stress from my own NYC taxi experience, it was many weeks before I could free my mind from the terrifying image of the driver flipping the bird to other taxi drivers with both hands as he navigated through Madison Avenue traffic using only his knees. Even today, I’m sure that his back seat still has a perfect impression of my hands — in the form of a death grip — which he can use as a nice conversation piece. When you stop and think about it, most of us deal with potential traumatic stress situations on a daily basis without giving much thought to lawsuits.

Just this morning, for example, I filled the gas tank.

It’s a situation rife with traumatic stress potential, especially when you consider I’ll be reminded of that horrific experience in three weeks when I get my bank statement. Ever find yourself in a hurry opening a can of soup, then a can of dog food, spoon both of them out, heat the soup, then realize as you’re eating that you don’t remember which of the two cans you measured the water with?

Though it’s the kind of thing that lingers on your mind, I have no plans to appear on the witness stand in the case of Ned vs Alpo.

It’s not that I’m trying to belittle how frightening the experience of an emergency landing must have been for the woman who sued Delta Airlines. I just happen to think the alternative — actually plummeting to the ground at 800 mph — would be much more stressful. In fact, polls show that four out of five travelers actually prefer landing safely during an emergency rather than crashing in a non-emergency situation (It’s important to note that the fifth traveler who was asked happened to be a retired Kamikaze pilot).

The truth is, depending on your frame of mind, there are lots of things we face every day that could be the catalyst for traumatic stress: The ingredients label on a package of hot dogs; that funny sound your car only makes on long trips; a carton full of eggs with rippled shells; beer caps that look like the twist-off kind but aren’t; having a surgeon whose last name is “Newbie,” “Flatliner” or “Snippit”; thinking about what’s actually in a McNugget; getting an enthusiastic kiss from your dog and then watching him clean himself with the same enthusiasm; FOX News; pharmaceutical ads with symptoms so general you could have any number of conditions — all of these are legitimate stress inducers.

That said, if you found any of this to be traumatic, I apologize.

However, if you’re still thinking about it tomorrow, that would be post-traumatic — and I’m sure lawyers in Billings, Mont., would like to hear from you.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

89 thoughts on “Stressed out? You can probably sue someone for that”

    1. Hey thanks, Tony. I have to say, the tagline on your Twitter account about it being a condiment and not the main course is one of my favorites. Terrific blog, too. Thanks for reading and keep up the great work out abroad.

  1. If you were limited in imagination I am sure you could avoid much of the stress of daily life. You obviously have one of those active brains that comes up with great twists. Mine too. If I didn’t laugh at 85% of the absurd things that come barreling at me every day, I would not function at all. I was a small child when I started traveling in NY taxi cabs by myself. Hmm. Maybe that has something to do with my endurance.

    1. It’s a blessing and a curse, really. Taxi cabs, I mean. But I think you’re on to something about early exposure to them as a child helping build endurance! Like you, without a sense of humor I couldn’t function. I’d say function “normally” but that’s still up for debate in some circles 😉

  2. I think I was in that cab…I was fascinated by the hand impressions and just assumed that it was some kind of Stargate activation system. (PS You have very dainty hands)

    As for the retired kamikaze pilot, I imagine some poor guy being hauled on the carpet before his boss because of his total failure to total any of the planes he has flown.

    “You’ve scored a perfect zero, Zero Tanaka! This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated. If it catches on, the entire kamikaze market will crash.”

    1. That would be the low-budget cable access episode of Stargate. They only made one because someone kept moving the taxi. And thanks for noticing my dainty hands. They are usually overshadowed by my giant feet, which I left imprints of on the ceiling of the cab.

      I’m just glad I pulled out all of my Kamikaze stock before the big crash.

  3. That’s a great list of everyday anxieties. When you mentioned the gas pump, I thought you were going to refer to the warnings on pump handles. I was getting gas in Vermont yesterday and was a little afraid: static risk, don’t leave unattended, don’t smoke, don’t vote Democrat. Does it surprise you that Canadian pumps don’t have these warnings? Also, Canadian pumps (or at least Quebec pumps) don’t have those latches to keep the gas running so you can go clean your window. In other words, you can’t leave your pump unattended whether you want to or not. This would never happen in the U.S.: pump free or die!

    1. Getting gas in Vermont is always risky, which is why we moved it closer to Canada. In Oregon, you can’t pump your own gas. I always thought it was to add more jobs, bolster the state economy, blah blah blah. Turns out it’s to keep us safe from Canadian travelers who are so excited by the pump latch that they have been known to leave the pump running while taking selfies and posting them on Facebook.

    2. I used to be a Safety manager for a fuel transport company and I was around when they took those little handle lock mechanisms off the pump handles in Canada. Believe it or not, it had very little to do with spilling gas. The main reason was that women were (and this is not a sexist slur) blowing themselves up, Especially in the US. The Gov’t circulated the station camera videos and the research and the reason became clear. If the handle is locked when pumping fuel, the car and the pump are grounded together because they are in metal to metal contact. There is a stream of gas vapours flowing from the tank around the nozzle as the fuel enters the tank. In each case, a woman wearing rubber soled shoes, locked the pump handle open, reached into the drivers door of the car to get their purse/ money from the seat. In doing so they picked up a static charge which they kept because of the rubber soles. When they reached out to touch the nozzle handle again, there was a static spark which ignited the gas fumes and cause an explosion and fire. A number died and some were hospitalized. The station videos were scary to watch – everything normal, then suddenly an explosion and fire engulfs the woman touching the handle. That’s why the locks were removed in Canada.

        1. My pleasure! The wierdest part of this law is that it was based primarily on US data (after all there’s 10 times as many Americans, so 10 times as many blew up) and yet enacted by Canada. I could draw some conclusions about social focus (i.e. “Pump free or Die!’) but I don’t want to embarrass our Anerican friends – so: Pump On Brothers!

          1. Oh, one last thought – if you have to let go of the pump handle while the fuel is running (i.e. you block it open with the fuel cap or someone has left the lock on the nozzle) you can avoid any danger by simply touching the car metal with either hand before you re-grip the nozzle. I prefer keeping one hand always on the car while fueling – it guarantees safety.

  4. I’m still traumatized by that one hour of Fox News I was forced to watch two years ago while my car was being fixed. I wonder what the statue of limitations is on that… hmmm. Funny stuff, as always!

    1. Well, there’s no statute of limitations on murder, and considering the number of brain cells that were killed during that hour, I’d say make that call to Billings.

  5. Love the sarcastic spin on America’s addiction to lawsuits. This is the new American dream: slip on a wet floor and sue your way to fame and fortune. This is far more practical than the airline route. You’d have to fly frequently before you finally hit pay dirt and almost crashed. Some of us just aren’t that lucky . . .

      1. It’s all these blankety-blank stacks of essays I have to grade. Seems like I could sue someone for the mental anguish those inflict 😀

  6. i for one am traumatized that you would even be remotely traumatized or make your readers want to be traumatized by FOX news. Coop alert…

    …and btw…exactly “what” did you fill the said gas tank with this morning?

      1. NED- adding ‘ster’ to COOP …makes the Coop some kind of all wrong…

        and…i dont want to know you emit’d nuthin…into the gas tank. wait. is that why that girl said you were standing so close to your car?

  7. Very funny post Ned. I’ve always thought that the test for litigation should be if an average reasonable person would have been hurt and if the defendant was acting in the best interests of the public with reasonable care. Like suing because your coffee is too hot or as you pointed out, suing because the airline was trying to save your ragged ass. There are those who figure everytime something bad happens , a new rule is needed rather than saying the individual who was harmed was an idiot. There are companies that work that way too. There was an occasion in my fuel hauling days, when there was a truck accident on Exxon property and the driver blamed it on the fact that he didn’t see a support pillar because it was hidden behind the windshield post between the left and right windshields on the truck. Exxon made a rule (for a while) that banned all trucks with two part windshields. Aaargh! How about banning idiots who can’t see a bloody post in the middle of the yard? To the best of my knowledge the ban was rescinded because most trucks have two piece windshields. The same company investigated a tanker accident where a contracted driver was going too fast for road conditions and slid off a bridge. The conclusion was that the contracted company “failed to reach the mind of the driver” in their safety training.No kidding. How about the driver failed to use his God-given mind and was driving too fast? It drives me nuts that people refuse to take responsibilty for their own actions and look for someone else to blame and sue. Aaaargh! I’ll stop ranting now – Thank you.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with your rant, Paul. I think a diminishing lack of personal responsibility and growing sense of entitlement are two of the biggest issues our society faces. And how to get Justin Bieber back to Canada… but that’s not really your problem. Yet.

    1. Exactly, Lisa. And what can be more stressful than THAT? Hey… maybe we should threaten them with our own class-action unless they stop?

      Sadly, this could be the circle of life…

  8. I’m SO stressed out that I don’t even know where to begin suing. The 4-year-olds that keep sending their germs to my house via my daughter? The school for sending me nasty notes about absences because we’re all sick? The government? Surely they have some part in all of this! Miley Cyrus for that horrible tongue thing? *sigh* Litigation is hard.

  9. Uggggg people are so crazy!! I suffered an emergencyish landing last August and had to CHANGE PLANES. How foolish of me to just be thankful I lived instead of suing. Next time : )

    1. There’s a reason for the phrase “happy landings.” Isn’t landing enough reason to be happy? I feel the same euphoria every time I step off a ladder without an incident.

      1. On a serious note, not to sound unkind, but you should hear people here in New York wail and moan every time the 9/11 anniversary comes around. I feel terrible for those who lost a loved one but jebus christ, you’ve got to let it go! 13 years have gone by! Do you think Londoners were still belly-aching10 years after the blitz in WWII? Probably not. There’s something to be said for that generation’s stoicism.

        1. I agree for the most part. Whether it was in an attack or due to natural causes, the loss of my wife is something I’d never get over. But it’s something I would carry with me, inside, without need for public empathy.

    1. I actually thought about the Roman Empire when I read this post too. They became more and more litigious as the Empire came to an end (also had smaller families too). I chose not to bring it up in favor of more cheerful topics like exploding gas tanks and lack of personal responsibility. Ahhh, have to say something humourous now…ummmm…thinking…

    1. Wait…You’re not sending dog poop are you?!?

      Take your time, Susan. There is no hurry; now or whenever, I will be just as appreciative for whatever gets stuffed into my mail box 😉

  10. I demand $5 for the traumatic 5 minutes of my life I spent reading this. I shall never recover and need a hot chocolate and a hug.

  11. During our quarterly mandatory training class, we informed that the penalty for inappropriately accessing private data was: a letter in your file for the first offense, a mandatory training class for the second offense and dismissal after the third offense.

    We were also informed that our employer has paid out millions in inappropriate access lawsuit settlements.

    Being practical people, most of us realized that we could inappropriately access our own private data then sue our employer twice before getting canned.

  12. And you think I’M funny? This is good stuff…

    Obviously, you are not trained in the art of “knee driving.” This is something that Matticus and I have discussed at length. It’s absolutely necessary when you practice the are of “car dancing.”

    You need your jazz hands available.

  13. I feel your pain, Ned.
    Canadian gas is less toxic (it burns more politely), but it is as overpriced as the Yankee version.
    Where are the flying cars The Jetsons promised us?

    1. Exactly! My wife and I always get a kick watching reaaallly old sci-fi movies (1940s and 50s) and their predictions of “modern society” in 2001. Hell, even 2001 A Space Odyssey was pretty far off the mark!

  14. Well, I can completely relate about the gas and bank statement trauma…and I do mean gasoline. I actually read this on the day you wrote it, but in truth I was so freaking stressed out that I really didn’t have anytime to comment, I was too busy trying to find out who to sue!
    On a side note: My finger is getting a real workout here. It has a lot of scrolling to do so I can comment, lol.

  15. I don’t know if it’s just Americans, but it seems Canadians are less likely to sue. We understand not everything is always going to go our way. Maybe we’re just used to being disappointed?

  16. “(It’s important to note that the fifth traveler who was asked happened to be a retired Kamikaze pilot).”
    First of all…it would seem including him in the sample may have biased the outcome of this particular research somewhat. Second, a retired Kamikaze pilot? No disrespect, but if you make it to retirement in that profession you really suck at your job;)

    1. Lol! Obviously NOT at the top of his class. Here’s another question: How quickly do you think the Japanese military was going through its Kamikaze pilot instructors?

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