Posts Tagged ‘urban legends about lawsuits’

Viral junk and the Culture War: think before you share

Can sober correction ever catch up with viral junk about legal cases on the internet? Two new instances, one from the right and one from the left, leave me wondering.

I’ve now updated this 2008 Overlawyered post on a convict’s hand-scrawled, soon-dismissed “ban the Bible” lawsuit to reflect the story’s re-emergence in recent days as a much-shared item at mostly conservative social media outlets, which have passed on the story as if it were a new and significant legal development, typically omitting its date, circumstances, and disposition.

Meanwhile, Raw Story has now corrected a post in which it claimed that Oregon cake bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein were fined for supposedly “doxxing” (maliciously revealing personally identifying information about) their adversaries. (It credits a Eugene Volokh post for flagging the error.) But the source on which Raw Story based its report, blogger “Libby Anne” at Patheos Atheist, still hasn’t corrected her deeply flawed account, which has now had more than 252,000 Facebook shares.

Please think before you share.

How SCOTUS urban legends are made

No, the Supreme Court did not rule that firing a woman for breastfeeding is okay because men can lactate too. [Philip Miles, Lawffice Space]

P.S. Snopes weighs in (headlines “create a grossly misleading impression based upon one very minor element of a single aspect of the case”), prompting the ACLU’s Galen Sherwin to try a rescue mission in hopes readers would not lose interest in the case entirely once deprived of its clickbait elements. Raw Story, which did much to spread the silly meme, has now appended an easy-to-miss correction; Slate, which slapped an equally ridiculous headline on an Amanda Marcotte post, as of this writing has not.

Best-of-2011 lists and awards

Listicles and award contests from around the blawgosphere: Popehat on censorious clowns, Legal Ethics Forum, Trask on class action cases and articles, White Collar Crime Law Prof, Heritage on worst federal regs, Greenfield on best criminal law blawg post (and winner), Faces of Lawsuit Abuse (Chamber) on most ridiculous lawsuits, Balko on worst prosecutor (and finalists).

P.S. From The Week, “8 craziest lawsuits of 2011.” This in turn prompted a NYC personal injury attorney named David Waterbury, taking up valuable real estate at Eric Turkewitz’s, to write a counter-article saying the cases weren’t so bad, which involved me in the comments section after I observed Waterbury spreading the trial lawyer-favored line that the “Kara Walton” series of bogus lawsuit stories was a purposeful political fabrication.

Guardian advances litigation urban legends

The venerable British newspaper — at least someone there in charge of selecting pictures and captions — seems to have fallen for an old bit of fiction about an insurance customer who supposedly tried to collect on the loss of his cigars via fire, as an example of “odd American lawsuits.” One wonders why papers fall back on hoary email legends when they could have readily found hundreds upon hundreds of genuine examples of odd American lawsuits right here.

Incidentally, the reader who makes it through the underlying opinion piece (by Neil Rose) does eventually learn that the cigar fable is one of a class of stories “most of [which] are apocryphal or didn’t get anywhere, such as the case against the dry cleaners.” This is not really up to snuff as a way of warning readers off the cigar tale, and it’s grossly misleading as a description of the Roy Pearson dry-cleaners pants suit, which Pearson kept going for years at a very real and serious cost to his targets, the Chung family. Much of the point of the Neil Rose article seems to be to assure British readers that the American way of litigation may be safely emulated, since its costs are not really so bad. If that’s the argument, shouldn’t the piece convey a fairer picture of those costs?

October 10 roundup

“Hot coffee is back!”

In an op-ed in the Examiner last week, I express curiosity why the trial bar continues to insist that the infamous McDonald’s coffee case came out correctly decided, to the point that trial lawyer blogs express excitement that a documentary is going to be made about the subject. Of course, if the movie just parrots the urban legends trial lawyers have spread about the case, that would be something else—the fact that the filmmaker was fundraising at the AAJ convention but hasn’t shown her face around any of the tort reform conventions suggests a certain direction about the film.

Speaking of McDonald’s, I’ll be in the Bay Area next week at a couple of law schools giving a presentation called “The Law of McDonald’s: Hot Coffee, Obesity, and Prank Phone Calls” : Golden Gate University Law School on September 10, and UC-Davis on September 11. I’ll also be at UC-Berkeley Law on September 8, and Santa Clara University Law on September 9 talking more generally about tort reform and patent reform specifically.

February 1 roundup

  • A “retired Reserve captain is threatening to sue her local California school board if the board’s members do not address her by her military title” [Navy Times, Popehat]
  • Members revolt at Florida bar’s selling their email addresses to marketers; general counsel of bar suggests they maintain multiple email addresses [Daily Business Review]
  • “Panel Upholds $17M Attorney Fee Award, Cites Bad-Faith Patent Litigation by Drug Companies” [NLJ; fees awarded to Takeda Chemical Industries against Mylan Laboratories and Alphapharm Pty. Ltd.]
  • Much of what you think you know about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is wrong [Stuart Taylor, Jr./National Journal; Point of Law, more]
  • Not only prejudicial, but a whiskery urban legend to boot: fictional “Winnebago tale” (man thinks cruise control function will drive RV for him, sues after crash) makes its way into an Australian lawyer’s courtroom argument [Rees v. Bailey Aluminium Products]
  • Posner was scathing about the class action lawyers’ conflicts of interest in the Mirfasihi v. Fleet Mortgage Co. case, but Max Kennerly thinks the judge got the case wrong [Litigation and Trial, earlier]
  • Fight erupts over fee split in Blue Cross eating-disorder class action settlement [NJLJ, earlier]
  • “Many attorneys from both parties also marvel at the sheer number of lawyers Obama has picked so far” in staffing White House [Washington Post]

How trial lawyer urban legends get started

Public Citizen wrote a report about New York medical malpractice that said:

Physicians who made three or more malpractice payments between 1990 and 2006 – accounting for no more than 4 percent of New York’s doctors – were responsible for nearly half (49.6 percent) of medical malpractice dollars paid out on behalf of doctors in the time period.

This is technically true, but wildly misleading; we previously refuted this precise statistic as a natural statistical consequence of any randomly distributed set of payouts–and given that doctors in high-risk professions such as neurosurgery or ob/gyn are far more likely to be sued than dermatologists or gerontologists, the random concentration effect is going to be even more pronounced, so the Public Citizen statistic is meaningless without a showing of speciality-adjusted correlation between time periods–something no study has ever found.

But note how blogger Eric Turkewitz writes an op-ed in a small-town New York newspaper that isn’t even satisfied with simply misleading the public, and says something that is out-and-out false:

4 percent of the state’s doctors contribut[e] to half of the malpractice suits [emphasis added]

Not remotely true. “Nearly half of payments” has been turned into “half of malpractice suits.” Justinian Lane, who knows or should know that the latter statistic isn’t true, because his blog posted about the original statistic, then repeats the lie either thoughtlessly or deliberately:

Maybe doctors should discipline the four percent of doctors that make up half of all malpractice claims.

Will either of them retract the false claim with the same fanfare that they made it? Stay tuned. (They certainly won’t explain that there’s nothing damning about the accurate statistic–though I have been refuting this for over three years, Public Citizen and trial lawyers and their fans continue to regurgitate the data as if it means something.)

Gay man sues Bible publishers

Bradley LaShawn Fowler wants $60 million from Zondervan and $10 million from Thomas Nelson over hurt feelings from the editorial handling of the scriptural passages in question. Yes, the suits are pro se, and the judge won’t be appointing a lawyer at public expense to handle them, which still leaves the question of whether employing coercive legal process in such a manner should be free of a price tag in the form of Rule 11 sanctions. (“Man sues Zondervan to change anti-gay reference in Bible”, Grand Rapids Press, Jul. 9)(updated link should be working again).

More: Ron Coleman at Likelihood of Success has a copy of the hand-written complaint (PDF), as well as other commentary and links. James Taranto also comments. And Bill Poser, Language Log (via our comments), on the translation issues raised by the complaint.

Update July 2015: A federal judge soon tossed the hand-scrawled complaint out of court. But the case was destined to take on an urban-legend life of its own, with mostly conservative social media outlets re-reporting it in mid-2015 as if the case were a new and significant legal development, typically omitting its date, circumstances, and disposition. One site alone at last report had reaped more than 90,000 Facebook shares from its July 2015 version.