If life gives you lemons, think twice

July 11, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

THE OTHER DAY, the 10-year-old announced her intention to open a sidewalk lemonade stand.

"Sounds great," I said. "Where will you put it?"

She said she planned to sell the lemonade from an overturned crate in front of our house.

"That's a problem," I said. "Violates the Covenants and Restrictions of the community association. Look, it's right here in the handbook, Article 2: 'No building, fence, wall or other structure shall be commenced, erected, placed or altered in structure or color on any lot until the plans and specifications, including color scheme and a grading plan showing the location of the structure, have been approved in writing by the community association.' "

She seemed a little down about this, for some reason.

"What about advertising for your stand?" I asked.

She said she was thinking of a cardboard sign with "Lemonade -- 15 cents" written in crayon.

"That won't fly either," I said.

"Restrictions and Covenants again, Article 9: 'No sign of any kind shall be displayed to the public view on any lot except one professional sign of not more than one square foot, one sign of not more than five square feet, advertising the property for sale or rent.' "

I suppose we could just flag down customers, she said.

"I'm not a lawyer," I said, "but yelling 'Hey, mister, wanna buy some lemonade?' at passing motorists could be construed as harassment.

"Or let's say you yell 'Get your ice cold lemonade!' at someone pulling into his or her driveway. At the very least that's breach of the peace, as each homeowner is entitled to the quiet enjoyment of premises."

This time my daughter didn't say anything. Clearly she hadn't thought this lemonade business through. Then again, none of these kids ever do.

"Let me ask you this," I continued. "You plan on selling the lemonade in cups, right?"

Yes, that's right, she said. Small, paper cups.

"OK," I said. "What if one of your customers is drinking the lemonade, right? And there's, like, this waxy buildup on the cup, OK? And all of a sudden the cup slips from the customer's hand and goes sliding down his throat and lodges in his esophagus.

"And now he's gagging and choking, and you're pounding on his back, only that's not helping, so you call 911 and an ambulance comes and the paramedics work on the customer and finally they rush him to the emergency room, lights flashing, sirens wailing, police escort, the whole nine yards.

"They'll bring a productliability action against you so fast, missy, it'll make your head spin."

Boy, was she quiet now. She seemed a little pale, too. Although maybe that was just the way the light was catching her.

"I'm assuming you've determined the safe temperature of the lemonade," I said.

Excuse me? she said. She seemed sort of distracted.

"Look at that celebrated McDonald's case," I said. "Woman orders a cup of coffee, it spills in her lap, burns her, she hires some slick mouthpiece in a $3,000 Armani suit and sues for $50 million in actual and punitive damages.

"What if your lemonade is too cold? What if a customer drinks it and, I don't know, her tongue freezes to the roof of her mouth? And now she starts jumping up and down and crying and calling for her mommy, and you have to call 911 again and here comes the ambulance and the paramedics all over again.

"You gotta think about these things. I'm telling you, you're opening yourself up for all sorts of negligence suits."

Maybe a lemonade stand isn't a good idea after all, she said.

"Let me ask you something else," I said. "Exactly who would be operating the lemonade stand?"

She said it would be her and her friend, Caroline.

"Great," I said. "Two underage workers toiling for hours in the hot sun for less than minimum wage. The media would have a field day with that one -- look what they did to Kathie Lee Gifford with that Nicaraguan factory workers thing.

"By noon there'd be 15 satellite trucks outside our house. Sam Donaldson and Wolf Blitzer would be doing stand-ups in front of our front door. The newspaper would come out with a three-part series on child labor practices, with a picture of me on the front page shielding my face with a raincoat."

Maybe I'll just stay inside and watch TV, my daughter said.

"That's a good idea," I said. "But no MTV, OK?"

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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