Class action lawsuits are often as much about public opinion and influencing the media as about the considered language and argument of the courtroom. So it's no surprise that there is a web site devoted to the current attempt to get toothbrush manufacturers and the American Dental Association to pay damages to everyone who has ever had sore gums from brushing their teeth too hard.
The toothbrush abrasion class-action lawsuit has received a lot of publicity over the past few weeks, mostly of the head-shaking, what-is-the-world-coming-to sort. As the American Tort Reform Association says on its own site (aaabiz.com/atra/): 'The suit seeks unspecified damages and demands that toothbrushes come with warning labels and instructions. It is also certain to join the Crazy Lawsuit and Warning Label Hall of Fame.' Other honorees, says the association, include: 'The warning labels that have appeared on coffee cups across the nation following the now infamous dollars 2.7 million judgment against McDonald's over spilled coffee.'
Since the toothbrush lawsuit hardly needs more media profile, its own site (www.tooth-brushlawsuit.com) is sensibly devoted to recruiting more complainants to the action. 'What is toothbrush abrasion?' runs one section heading, followed by 'Do you have toothbrush abrasion?' and 'For more information, call: 1-877-SORE GUMS.' The only other section is a detailed refutation of an American Dental Association press release. In fact, given what could have been put on the site, it is remarkably restrained, even terse.
The American Dental Association has, of course, declared its intention to contest the case vigorously. But the association's site (www.ada.org) has nothing more than its press release and a news story about the case.
Still, that's more than you'll find on the Colgate Palmolive (www.colgate.com), Oral-b (www.oralb.com) or Mentadent (www.mentadent.com) web sites. Of course, striding fully armed into battle on their web sites might simply serve to draw more attention to the case than any of them want, especially at a stage when it is still possible it might all be thrown out of court. The downside of their strategy of downplaying it is that the complainants are stealing the initiative on the web.
Should the receding gums ever go to full trial, however, Colgate Palmolive, Gillette, Unilever and the other companies cited in the case will need to include the web in their PR strategy for the case.
- Stovin Hayter is editor of Revolution. Contact him at email@example.com.