Subway just got hit with a lawsuit alleging that its footlong subs are not actually a foot long. Plaintiffs who ate what is probably an 11-inch sub, are seeking money damages for their injuries. The case was filed in New Jersey.
I stick pretty close to personal injury related issues here. So why am I writing about a frivolous lawsuit claiming that a foot long sub is not a foot long? Because I think it is related. Lawsuits like this – and celebrities that sue for every possible slight – really sends a message to people, who later become jurors, that the judicial system is not often a place for serious justice.
So when an injured plaintiff begins a trial, she does not begin on the 50-yard line. She starts deep in her own territory. That’s not an impossible mission for a worthy plaintiff by any stretch – people flip quickly when they learn facts. But it makes the hill a tougher climb and it can change the way they value personal injury cases.
Subway says the word “footlong” should not be taken literally, as it is a trademark and “not intended to be a measurement of length.” But they are misleading people. They misled me. I thought it was a foot long till I read this story. But consumers who think like me have two reasonable choices: (1) decide not to buy the Subway subs because they are mad at the false advertising, or (2) remain annoyed but say, “Hey, Subway is not perfect, I don’t think many big companies are, but I think make a good sandwich and I’m going to eat it.” (I pick the latter. Subway makes a good low fat sandwich, albeit with a ridiculous amount of sodium.).
The road less traveled that these “plaintiffs” took is to file a lawsuit. (I need the quotes because plaintiff means something to me – these are guys who ate a good sandwich.) Plaintiffs’ lawyer argues that this is just. Subway should either make their sandwiches 12 inches long or stop advertising them as footlongs. He might be right. But what he needs to understand – and what many of these consumer class action lawsuit plaintiffs need to understand – is that there are many wrongs out there that do not need the justice system to be righted.
Most problems and injustices that most people face in our corner of the world cannot be solved by laws or lawsuits. Your boss fires you because he never gave you a chance. Your wife cheats on you. You lead a healthy life and your health has taken an awful turn anyway. As a society, we are pushing closer to making these kinds of things a part of our civil justice system. I don’t like it.
But I probably wouldn’t worry about it much but for the fact that it impacts my clients. Sit through voir dire once, particularly in a state that, unlike Maryland, has more comprehensive voir dire. Jurors are fed up with people using lawsuits to solve every grievance and they are skeptical of plaintiffs – even badly injured plaintiffs – because they remind them of guys who file lawsuits about the length of a sandwich.
P.S. It is stupid lawsuit day. Here’s a lawsuit against Lance Armstrong for people that bought his books.
Subway Footlong Lawsuits Update
In April 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that Subway was “within inches” of reaching a settlement in this case. One outstanding issue: attorneys’ fees. Naturally. Are lawyers really going to make money off of this? I want to light myself on fire.
2017 Update from Walter Olson at Overlawyered: this case is about to be dismissed. Why? Because the 7th Circuit found that the purpose of the litigation was to extract out attorneys’ fees. This all took four years. Unbelievable. The consumer class action lawsuits are a mixed bag. They help us keep manufacturers in check. But these lawsuits that are just for lawyers do not help trust in our civil justice system.