Can a Toilet Cause an Accident?

Two days ago, in TOTO, Judge Richard J. Leon issued an opinion in United States vs. Ford. The Ford Court accepted the testimony of Dr. eyewitnesses who contradicted the defendant’s version of events. The judge found that the testimony of witnesses beyond a reasonable doubt was false or incongruent with the fact or evidence at hand. Ford was, in essence, denying the reality of his testimony, the larger truth, the whole truth, or falsity of any fact. He maintained that he had not told the whole story and, in effect, that the whole story didn’t exist. He thus rested his case.

A week later, in TOTO v. Ford, again the Ford Court found itself confronted with a clash between the testimony of Ford and its facts. Again the court found itself needing to look beyond a reasonable doubt to a clear or obvious fact. This time, however, it held that Ford’s testimony was false because it tended to create a “forest of trees” around the toilet bowl in which the “poisonous tree” sat. This was not a new problem; it had been recognized as such by courts in the past and was therefore ruled harmless.

What then was to prevent Ford from reconstructing the event and convincing the jury to acquit him? Ford had to first explain why the toilet bowl in question did not exist. Then, he had to explain why it could not have fallen into the toilet. He thus had to explain that the accident required an act of “will,” leading to the death of someone. Finally, he had to explain why, if the story were true, it would be “logical” for anyone to kill Ford in order to avoid paying taxes on the deceased’s estate.

In response to the defense challenge to the true cause-and-effect relationship of Ford’s act of suicide, counsel for the defendants pointed out that Ford actually committed suicide after his statement that the toilet in question would “fall in.” They further argued that Ford committed suicide in an extremely unusual situation where he could reasonably expect to die as a result of the injuries sustained while trying to jump into the car. Ford, they further claimed, had no motive to kill himself except for thinking that if he did not kill himself he would not owe taxes on his inherited estate. At this point, defense counsel made what can be considered an argument common to criminal litigation, claiming that the fact that Ford jumped into the car “inadvertently” waived his rights to a fair trial and a reasonable outcome. Because “inadvertently” is a word that brings to mind “catapulting to heights,” and because the law is such that an unintentionally occurring act is a defense to liability, counsel for the defendants could thus rest their case.

Unfortunately, the defense argument does not bear much weight. Because it is well known that at the time of Ford’s suicide, his insurance company was involved in settling some 50 million claims arising from personal injuries caused by toto toilets, it is beyond cavil that Ford waived his rights to a fair trial and an equitable outcome by using his last breath to propel himself into the nearest automobile body shop. And even if we were to adopt the more expansive view of “inadvertently” – which I do not think is defensible even in a traffic accident – there is still no bright-line rule that a person has to jump into a vehicle to avoid liability.

We cannot today say with certainty that a toto toilet will cause an accident or cause someone harm when it is used irresponsibly. But there are many factors that will lead one, using a toto toilet, to use the facility irresponsibly. It is a good thing that there are products on the market that prevent accidents from happening. If a user were to follow the directions that come with his or her toilet and if he or she chooses to use it irresponsibly, there is every chance that he or she would end up in an accident. It would behoove the general public, as well as drivers, to take reasonable steps to ensure their safety.

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