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Dennis Kucinich Settles Olive Pit Lawsuit

While we await the Egyptian Speaker of Parliament, who is apparently about to make an important statement about the government, I wanted to put a quick capper on this story about Dennis Kucinich and his dental issues. The announcement that he was suing a Congressional cafeteria because he bit into an olive pit sparked a good deal of derision, but apparently not by the cafeteria or its lawyers, because according to Kucinich they settled out of court for damages.

The parties have exchanged information and after some investigation and discussion have resolved the matter for an amount all parties believe reflects the actual out-of-pocket expenses related to this incident. The terms of the settlement are confidential; however, I feel that the defendants have responded fairly and reasonably. I don’t want to have to make another dental visit for a very long time, and will be making no further comment on this matter.

In Kucinich’s statement, he talks about the two-year ordeal to fix his teeth after biting into the olive pit, which the cafeteria claimed was removed. His tooth split in half upon impact with the pit, and because the tooth anchored the upper bridgework, several teeth became infected. This caused a lot of pain and the need for deep medical treatment. Eventually the tooth was removed, the bridgework reconfigured, and six other teeth replaced as well. None of Kucinich’s dental insurance covered this type of injury.

Justin Elliott talked to a consumer lawyer who said that he would have won the lawsuit:

“Everybody is getting caught up on the pit — ‘Oh, it was some little thing.’ Take the word ‘pit’ out and put in ‘sharp piece of metal.’ Nobody would have a problem with suing over that. They’re trying to make this about something trivial. A pit in an olive is the same thing as biting into a rock,” Dolan says. (One of his clients lost three teeth after biting down on a rock in a salad. Another was burned by cleaning acid in a bottle of water.) […]

“If he’s got the label that says ‘pitted olives,’ and they weren’t pitted, that’s called an express warranty. They told him the sandwich had no pits. He didn’t get what he bought, and it harmed him,” Dolan says. “The other area is strict products liability. There is something wrong with the product. He didn’t cause it. He had no reason to assume it was in the product. And he got injured.”

It seems to me this casual jibe at Kucinich and the olive pit reflects a broader bias against consumer protection lawsuits. There’s apparently a movie at Sundance this year called “Hot Coffee” which chronicles the familiar story of the lady who won a large settlement from McDonald’s suing after coffee spilled in her lap. As this interview with Democracy Now explains, in reality the woman was physically scarred by the event, and McDonald’s was negligent by keeping their coffee indescribably hot to preserve it. It’s part of a larger story of how corporations degrade the civil justice system by mocking legitimate grievances, and the Kucinich incident fit neatly into that.

We all have the right to expect packaging and labeling to be accurate, and to hold accountable those who fall short of that. Kucinich was merely exercising his rights as a consumer. Beyond the laughter, we should take note of that.

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David Dayen

David Dayen