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Dr. Oz suit is another reason people hate lawyers

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Dr. Oz being sued by N.J. man who burned his feet on rice in socks
  • Obeidallah says Oz's rice sleep aid suggestion gave rapacious lawyers chance to pounce
  • He says lawyers seeking quick buck take such cases, settle them, give bad name to lawyers
  • Obeidallah: Frivolous suits boost call for tort reform, hurt lawyers in end, and also injured people

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Dr. Mehmet Oz is being sued for injures sustained by a New Jersey man. Was this person under Dr. Oz' care? Was he someone Dr. Oz had spoken with about a medical issue? Did Dr. Oz, in an uncharacteristic fit of anger, punch the Jersey guy?

Nope. This man is simply one of the millions of people who have watched Dr. Oz on TV over the years. So why is he suing? Because, the plaintiff claims, he was injured when he tried Dr. Oz' home sleep remedy known as the "Knapsack Heated Rice Footsie."

Shake your head in disbelief all you want, but this is far from the most ludicrous lawsuit we have seen in recent years.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Who can forget the Michigan woman who filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the producers of the film "Drive"? Her complaint alleged that she was misled by the movie's trailer which promised "Fast and the Furious" type driving, which, alas, the film didn't deliver.

And then there was the lawsuit filed last year against the Dallas Cowboys by a woman claiming she sustained burns on her legs. What did she say the Cowboys did wrong? She claims they failed to warn her that sitting for an extended period of time on a black bench outside the Cowboys' stadium on a hot August day could cause burns.

More? Well, while in Tennessee, a couple sued Steak 'n Shake after their son ingested a sauce labeled "Mega Death Hot Sauce." It should be noted that the sauce bottle bears the image of a skull engulfed in flames.

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And that brings us to Dr. Oz. On his April 17, 2012, show, he offered advice about how to sleep better. One suggestion was filling the toe of a pair of socks with uncooked rice. The socks were then to be placed in the microwave and heated until warm. However, Dr. Oz expressly warned viewers, "Don't get it too hot, just warm."

The heated footsie was then to be worn for 20 minutes. The reasoning being that the heated socks will cause blood to be diverted to your feet, which in turn will cool the rest of your body. As Dr. Oz explained, "you're going to be able to sleep better because your body has to be cold in order to be sleepy."

However, the plaintiff claims that he suffered third degree burns from this remedy. How? Well, he apparently fell asleep with the socks on and didn't realize his feet had been burned until he woke up in the middle of night and tried to walk. The plaintiff also claims that Dr. Oz should have offered a specific warning to avoid using this remedy to people who, like him, have diabetes and hence less feeling in their feet.

Let's be honest: These above lawsuits are at best legally questionable and at worst frivolous. But don't blame the person seeking the money. Blame the lawyers.

Personal injury lawyers have enticed people for years with their TV commercials and ads on the walls of buses and trains telling us that if you have been wronged, you might be entitled to a big cash award or settlement. This is, of course, followed by the line: "We don't get paid unless you do."

So, understandably, people flock to these lawyers with complaints about every imaginable wrong seeking a payday. The lawyers then file lawsuits, hoping for a quick settlement so that they can do as little work as possible before seeing their own payday.

Full disclosure: When I practiced law, I represented corporations against lawsuits. Consequently, I'm a bit biased against plaintiffs' lawyers. But it's easy for even a non-corporate lawyer to see that these ridiculous lawsuits give the reputable plaintiffs' attorneys -- and, frankly, all lawyers -- a black eye.

It's not that I'm without sympathy for the growing number of lawyers out there struggling to make ends meet. The practice of law has grown increasingly competitive and challenging. I can understand the lure of taking a questionable case that will reap you some media coverage and money.

But that's not a good enough reason to do it. Lawyers need to collectively rein in these types of cases. If they don't, the government will do it for them under the guise of "tort reform." The new laws that result would in all likelihood make it harder to file a lawsuit and would limit damages in personal injury cases. And this will make it even more challenging for lawyers to earn a living. Worse, these reforms may prevent some truly injured people from receiving the full compensation they deserve because of caps on damages.

As for Dr. Oz, I hope that he doesn't settle quickly out of court. Instead, I hope they fully litigate this case. In all likelihood he will prevail. But even if the plaintiff does ultimately win, it still will have sent a clear message to plaintiffs' attorneys who take these legally questionable cases: If you want money, you are going to have to really earn it.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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