Eric Mayne's Blog

Rufio Was Wrong; U-Haul Lawyers Don't Deserve Hook


I still laugh at this scene from the movie, Hook.

It is a delicious moment when Rufio, a spike-haired amalgam of Peter Pan and Robin the Boy Wonder, flippantly passes sentence on a pompous lawyer convincingly portrayed by Robin Williams.

My reaction is fueled partly by relief. In today's vindictive social climate, journalists are as apt as anyone to incur a mob's wrath. So why not go after the lawyer?

How many times has some Average Joe been cut off at the knees by a black-hearted barrister raising a "technicality" known and understood only by the soul-less spawn of Satan? A technicality such as the one that prohibits Ford Explorer owners from renting U-Haul trailers.

Ten years ago, when Ford was in the throes of the Firestone tread-separation fiasco, legal counsel for the world's largest installer of trailer hitches advised against renting any equipment that might be towed by an Explorer. No matter the vintage.

Easy to understand, I guess, even if no such proviso was aimed at its Mercury Mountaineer platform-mate. But here we are, two generations removed from the vehicle in question, and the prohibition is still in effect.

"Every time we go to hire an attorney to defend a lawsuit, as soon as we say ‘Ford Explorer,’ they charge us more money,” U-Haul representative Joanne Fried told an inquiring Consumer Reports editor.

Once again, lawyers sneeze and Average Joe catches a cold. Or so it seems.

"Even if the product is not in fact more dangerous, the fact that plaintiffs, as well as juries, might believe otherwise is a sign that any litigation involving that product might be more contentious – and hence expensive – than litigation involving other products," University of San Diego law professor Shaun P. Martin tells me. "Lawsuits that involve high-profile products cost more to defend than others."

Plain and frustratingly simple.

"It may not be fair that people file more lawsuits when a particular product is involved, even if that product is actually not more dangerous, but if they do, companies and their lawyers have to respond to that reality," Martin says.

And did you ever wonder why Ford has never protested vehemently about this injustice? I did. So I tried recently to give a soapbox to one senior Ford executive.

The result? Dead silence. And then someone whispered that I should take a drive by the nearest U-Haul lot and count the Blue Oval badges.

I did. Shed no tears for Ford over this debacle.

And to those who would cry foul over a U-Haul policy that has no foundation in reality, a sigh is in order. Because things are never as they seem.

Makes you wonder who really lives in Neverland -- Rufio and the Lost Boys, or us.

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