May Contain Nuts

- “Manufacturers stamp bags of peanuts with warning that they “may contain nuts”

- Parents asked not to bring homemade cakes to school fêtes

- Flowers banned at a hospital in attempt to stop the spread of MRSA

- Hanging baskets banned in case they fall on people

- Children banned from using egg boxes in art class in case they catch salmonella

- Children forced to ride inflatable sheep at a Welsh Donkey Derby”

Ridiculous, isn't it? This article shares some of the things people and organizations in Britain have had to do to protect themselves from lawsuits and penalties. The overly protective rules have caused numerous unnecessary costs, hurting the economy.

Britain's government has set up a national campaign to stress the importance of self-reliance and to inform the public that the government is not responsible for every random accident that may happen.

If you asked someone if they wanted the world to be safer, naturally they would say yes. But we must keep in mind the trade-offs and that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I think it's sad how out of hand some laws have become, but I'm sure those laws were made for protection from lawsuits.


Dr. Tufte said...

This is one reason we need psychologists.

Economists are very good at pointing out that the typical person's assessment of risks is lousy. We are not very good at explaining why this is so.

The field that deals with this is forensic economics. These are the people who provide court testimony for things like workplace accidents.

They've found that individuals often have wildly inflated values on their own safety. Yet, they routinely make personal choices (e.g., riding without a helmet) that indicate that they value their life much less than they claim.

A great deal of this is simply blame-shifting. It's really easy to demand a high level of safety be provided by others free of cost, then it is to take care of it on your own.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Mr. Tufte's comment. People are very double-minded: if a person drops coffee on his/her leg, that person would sue for millions; but that person would willingly not wear a seatbelt to protect his/her life. Why not sue that person for not wearing a seatbelt? All the warnings that are placed on the product - I bet at least half of them are common-sense. Government is depriving us of having common-sense knowledge.

Grace said...

Interesting how we all want less government regulation when it becomes inconvenient, but when there's the possibility of making some money from a lawsuit people are jumping on the bandwagon to enlist the government to create more laws. We all want the world to be safer as long as we aren't inconvenienced to make it that way. What has happened to common sense?

Dr. Tufte commented how people have inflated values on their own safety yet they routinely make choices that contradict this. Another interesting observation is that people have underinflated values on the safety of other individuals. This is illustrated by people who choose to drink & drive, drive too fast in hazardous road conditions, or fail to buckle up their children in the car.

carter said...

I agree with Dr. Tufte's comment. The society is giving credit to people for not thinking, and or being stupid. People can get paid for not having common sense, (lawsuits). This is a problem that needs to get some attention.

Gavin said...

Extra Credit - Dr. Tufte
While I think that the majority of lawsuit settlements harm the individual more than the accident, there are legitimate claims. Dr. Tufte has a very accurate assessment of our behavior. It appears that our irrational behaviors are better explained through economics than psychology.

Trinity said...

Dr. Tufte- I disagree with your argument. You made very valid points but I believe the most common reason for frivilous lawsuits is money. Most of the people that go after these types of lawsuits are poor people trying to strike it rich against a big company or a rich individual. Perhaps this explains our assumptions that they are not rational. Perhaps they are rational because they are making choices that are in their best interest (financially).

William said...

Dr. Tufte,
I agree with your last point that it is much easier to blame someone else then to be responsible for your actions. I feel that our courts need to also be held accountable. It seems that we always blame the people, but I think we also need to look at the people that are ruling in their favor. Many people would not sue others if they knew that they would not win. It's insane to think that we have judges that rule in favor and allow people to get away with these crazy complaints. It seems to me that our world is becoming so sensitive to the minority that we are forgetting the majority.

Reagan said...

Dr. Tufte-Extra Credit

The point that you brought up that I liked the most was that people are lousy at accessing risk. I recently watched a TV program about people making stupid decisions. Part of the program was about women having cosmetic surgery and not taking serious the risks involved. After their surgeries they experienced complications that were life threatening and these women were completely shocked. The wondered why the government would allow such procedures to be done if risks are involved. The doctors response was that people should understand that anytime a knife cuts the skin there is a risk. Society would be much better if people would make good choices on their own and not expect the government or anyone else to protect them from their inability to make good choices.

TheFindlay said...

Dr. Tufte
I completely agree with your comments. However, I think the helmet wearing example is a flawed one if you are talking about around town. 1) Helmets mess up your hair; 2) they can impair vision; and 3) they don’t look cool. Other than that you were pretty spot on. It’s unfortunate that the blame game is taken so seriously in court.

Dr. Tufte said...

I like Binoculars suggestion: what if the government sued you when you created a problem?

Trinity: I don't think there's evidence that lawsuits are coming mostly from the poor.

thefindlay: I thought your hair was supposed to look like that ;)>