Saturday, August 27, 2005

Frivolous Claims about Frivolous Claims


Grazinski blamed the manufacturer for not warning against such a maneuver in the owner's manual. He sued and won $1.75 million.

His jackpot would seem to erase any doubt that the legal system has lost its mind. Indeed, the Grazinski case has been cited often as evidence of the need to limit lawsuits and jury awards.

There's just one problem: The story is a complete fabrication.

It is one of the more comical tales in an anthology of legal urban legends that have circulated widely on the Internet, regaling millions with examples of cluelessness and greed being richly rewarded by the courts. These fables have also been widely disseminated by columnists and pundits who, in their haste to expose the gullibility of juries, did not verify the stories and were taken in themselves.

Although the origins of the tales are unknown, some observers, including George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, say their wide acceptance has helped to rally public opinion behind business-led campaigns to overhaul the civil justice system by restricting some types of lawsuits and capping damage awards.
A database search shows the Grazinski, Carson and Walton tales have been cited as true by a wide range of media outlets, including CNN; U.S. News & World Report; the American Spectator; the Oakland Tribune; the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram; the Deseret News of Salt Lake City; the Akron Beacon-Journal; the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record; and the Augusta, Ga., Chronicle.
Sheila Davis, public relations manager for Winnebago Industries . . . has repeatedly had to explain that, no, there was no Grazinski lawsuit, and, no, the company did not have to change the owner's manual to avoid a swarm of copycat claims.

Just because some people lie about the tort system does not mean it is perfect, but it is amazing how many people who are not harmed (at least in any direct or significant way) are so passionate about "frivolous lawsuits." Where are the people who hate farm subsidies and sugar quotas? I guess there are no big business interests to whip up the right-wing faithful on that subject.

How could we reform medical malpractice and other tort cases? Part of the solution might be universal health care. With all cost born by a single-payer government, there is little motivation to seek money to pay medical bills.

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