Leave it to plaintiff’s attorneys to use the powers of the Internet to gather up people frustrated with the lack of perfection in life (I had a bad day! Whom can I blame/sue?) and turn a collection of electronic venting into a cash cow.
A recently-filed class-action lawsuit against a diaper producer (Pampers) that sprang from a rant-filled Facebook group seems to indicate that trial attorneys and social media are, in fact, a match made in tort hell.
Reading news stories about the lawsuit reminded me of a plot twist in the first season of the critically-acclaimed AMC series “Breaking Bad.” In it, Walt (a terminally-ill high-school chemistry teacher-turned crystal meth producer) needed to launder his considerable narcotics income. At the same time, as luck would have it, Walt’s son had launched a touching online campaign to collect donations for his dad’s cancer treatments. With the help of a crooked defense attorney whose slogan is “Better Call Saul,” Walt’s son’s charitable website became the mechanism for laundering the proceeds of Walt’s methamphetamine business.
The moral of the story: while the Internet and social media can be utilized for great good (i.e. tweets from freedom-hungry protestors in Iran), they can also be the platform for some pretty shady, lucrative business that is disguised as good.
I couldn’t help picturing “Better Call Saul” when I heard about the class-action lawsuit against Pampers. The outcry against their new “Dry Max” diapers was cultivated on the Facebook Group “Bring Back the Old Cruisers/Swaddlers.”
In a world where Facebook and other social media venues are used for everything from lobbying Congress (or getting elected to Congress), to aggressive advertising and marketing, the creative use of a Facebook page to whip up support for a big lawsuit isn’t exactly surprising.
In this case, the fact that one of the Facebook diaper group’s administrators is from the Seattle area and the class-action lawsuit against Pampers was filed by a Seattle-based plaintiffs law firm (Keller Rohrback) is not terribly surprising, either. Social media can, it seems, be the Internet equivalent of plaintiff’s lawyers’ television ads that ask “Have you been the victim of someone else’s negligence?” A Facebook page is a lot cheaper than advertising on television, right?
Oh, and guess what the big complaint against Pampers’ Dry Max diapers is? Parents say the diapers cause (drum roll, please) diaper rash!
Diaper rash has a myriad of potential causes and is about as common and frustrating as the common cold. It’s a rotten thing, but it shouldn’t be lawsuit material. But don’t take my word for it; check out what pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown said about the Dry Max outcry on his WebMD blog.
Dr. Brown summed up his common sense perspective well, I thought, by writing this:
“…could those Dry Max diapers cause a contact dermatitis in some children? Maybe. Could ANY diaper cause a contact dermatitis in a baby with a sensitive hiney? Sure. Even babies in cloth diapers experience diaper rashes. All diapers are not perfect for all babies.”
Without social media, it's safe to bet that relatively-few cases of diaper rash likely would not have escalated into a major class-action lawsuit. Is social media to blame? No, not exactly. As is so often the case with a number of unpleasant things in life, I think the lawyers are to blame.
Trial attorneys are smart and extremely savvy. They are highly attuned to the latest trends, products and public attitudes. They know that social networking (or, as this clever Forbes writer calls it, “nutworking”) can turn a ripple into a tidal wave. And, for them, the ripple is made of dollar signs.
Ms. Card has been a political appointee at the U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury and Justice.
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Jean Card is a writer and communications consultant with expertise in public policy and small business issues. She is a former speechwriter for the U.S. secretaries of Labor and Treasury as well as the attorney general. Follow her on Twitter: @JeanCard