Give plaintiffs an inch, they’ll take a mile

Imagine for a moment you’re in the legal profession and you’re about to ascend to a position you’ve always aspired to, a truly lofty goal. You’ve been appointed a judge. Doesn’t really matter at what level, all you know for sure is you are the judge. The ruler of the courtroom. The enforcer of laws and master of the wisdom of Solomon when it comes to making decisions.

Now you are really going to make a difference. Maybe it will be keeping the streets clean by doing what must be done with convicted criminals. Maybe it will be your words of wisdom spoken from the bench that will convince some young, wayward soul to turn to the straight and narrow and you later hear of what a great person they have become. There are so many ways you can make a difference.

Finally, your first day on duty as a judge has arrived. You turn to your bailiff (this is so cool, you have a bailiff) and ask them to call the first case.

“The court calls the case of Joe Citizen vs. Subway sandwich shops, seeking damages due to the fact that their ‘footlong’ sandwiches are indeed just 11 inches long.”

There you have it. Your first big case. And don’t think for a minute that I’m writing fiction. This is indeed happening.

It all started about a week ago when some kid in Australia posted a picture on the Internet showing the footlong sandwich he had just bought from Subway next to a ruler that showed the sandwich to be 1 inch short of a foot. The picture went viral and traveled around the world. Including New Jersey, where two guys — in somewhat true Jersey fashion — thought there might be a buck in it for them. They went to 17 different locations of the largest fast food franchise in the world and bought a footlong. All 17 they say didn’t quite measure up. So they’re suing. And just to show they’re not in it just for themselves, it’s a class action suit so the rest of us who have maybe been damaged by this sandwich shortfall could get a bite of the action.

If that lawsuit isn’t appealing enough to you, someone else in Chicago is doing the same thing.
And just to make sure these crusaders of the courts aren’t going based just off facts from Facebook or their own research, that bastion of journalistic integrity — the New York Post — sent their reporters out and they discovered four of seven sandwiches they bought were short.
For their part, Subway officials — before the lawsuits started coming in — said the word “footlong” is a descriptive name and not intended as a measurement. Oh yeah? See you court buddy.

Now you might think this is a waste of time for our legal system. I tend to agree, but what do you want to bet that before this is all over, someone calls for a Congressional hearing on descriptive names of sandwiches.

But let’s not stop here. Maybe we need to have some definition of what “big” truly is. Can I sue if I don’t think my Big Mac is truly big? What if my Whopper is just an average catch? Surely someone is describing their Mexican food as “Mucho Grande.” Who’s to determine what constitutes “mucho.” Or is it indeed “grande”? I once ordered a tower of onion rings. Stacked atop each other they weren’t bad. But tower-esque? I think not. And is that pizza truly “supreme”? It’s up the courts to decide.

Since my college days of Wednesday nights at the Riviera Lounge for footlong chili dogs, I’ve always been under the impression that “footlong” meant bigger than normal, but maybe not quite right at 12 inches.

All I know is if I worked at a Subway right now and someone ordered a footlong sandwich, I’d measure that bad boy. If it were an inch short, I’d hang a half-inch of lettuce out each side. Or maybe just smash it a little bit to stretch it out.

For now, since I’m not a judge, maybe I’ll just hope I am called for jury duty in this case. Sounds like free lunch to me.

Russ Batenhorst

Don't expect to detect a common topic or theme in Russ Batenhorst's weekly column in the Hastings Tribune. Usually it's whatever slice-of-life observation pops into his head just in time to make the deadline for it to appear each Friday.

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