Search Results for ‘winnebago’

One more Winnebago thought: the Ford Pinto lawsuit urban legend

Kudos to John Cole, who evaluated the evidence and withdrew his endorsement of the LA Times story.

One of his commenters protests: “I’ve certainly heard [the Winnebago case] presented as true.” Well, no doubt. That’s the nature of urban legends. The point is that the Winnebago story isn’t a motivating force behind tort reform. The major tort reform advocates aren’t using the Winnebago story (and, in fact, have done much to refute it). Policymakers aren’t enacting tort reform in response to the Winnebago story.

In contrast, what about urban legends that support the litigation lobby? For example, how about the myth that the Ford Pinto was unusually dangerous and the related myth that Ford valued a human life at $200,000 in deciding not to make a design change? It’s a thirty-year-old tale, trumpeted by Mother Jones magazine and the mainstream media, repeated endlessly (including by Ralph Nader and in a talk I heard by Jonathan Turley, quoted in the LA Times story), used in law school textbooks—but it’s utterly false. Unlike the Winnebago story, a google search for “ford +pinto +lawsuit” turns up no refutations on the front page (though maybe this new page will turn up in the future). Rather, one gets such links as a Daily Kos poster using the Ford Pinto case to argue against class action jurisdictional reform, even though the latter has nothing to do with the former. These things are perhaps impossible to measure, but how can anyone possibly think that the false Winnebago story has had more of an impact on the tort reform debate than the false Ford Pinto story? Where’s Myron Levin on this one?

Winnebago/Stella Award myths, pt. 4

Reader Gerald Affeldt writes:

I first heard a version of the “Winnebago cruise control” story while I was in the Navy stationed at Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. in 1977. And I’ve heard different versions of it over the years.

The earliest version I heard, as well as a number of later versions, had an ethnic angle. At the time, the U.S. Navy was training pilots for the Shah of Iran, and what with language and customs difference, the trainees weren’t considered technically acute. So the first version of the story I heard was of a supposed Iranian driver. Over the years versions I heard involved a number of other ethnic groups. Just plug in who you wanted.

In the first version I heard, the vehicle was a conversion van. Bed in the back, couple of captain chairs and large mural on the side. Didn’t start hearing motorhome versions till the 90’s. So I guess it’s plug in the popular large vehicle of the time.

In the early versions, the point of the story was just that the driver was too dumb to know cruise control wasn’t the same as an autopilot. I never heard of a lawyer being involved until a few years ago. Guess the story’s age was showing and it needed spicing up.

Most people telling it thought it was true. A friend had seen it in a paper, etc. I guess the whole story works because of the number of stupid people in the world.

For those who came in late, the L.A. Times on Sunday printed a prominent piece on the Winnebago and other “Stella Award” tall tales, which it suggested were “fabrications” spread by the tort reform movement (see Ted’s and my take on the story, as well as our four-year-old debunking of the tales themselves with credit to Snopes). Regarding Mr. Affeldt’s recollections, a few observations:

* You’d think before running an article suggesting that the tales’ wide circulation over the Net reflects a campaign of purposeful disinformation, L.A. Times reporter Myron Levin might have done a little digging into the origins of the tales to find out things like where and when the earliest sightings occur. But there’s scant sign that he did.

* As a visit to the generally excellent urban-legends site Snopes.com will make clear, it’s typical of garden-variety urban legends — the kind whose circulation reflects mere credulity on the part of reader/forwarders, as opposed to a conscious plot to hoodwink the public — that they are older than the tale-tellers realize them to be, and have gone through mutations reflecting what in musicology would be called the folk process.

* To be sure, Mr. Affeldt’s recollections do not conclusively refute the ATLA/L.A. Times thesis that the Winnebago and similar tales have been purposely fabricated. After all, even if there were already an urban legend in wide circulation about a clueless driver’s mistaking cruise control for autopilot, it’s conceivable that the plotters came up with the sly stroke of inserting a lawsuit into the narrative as part of their unceasing efforts to sap public confidence in the U.S. legal system. Of course, it bears repeating that ATLA-‘n’-L.A.T. have offered zero evidence of any such thing happening.

* One other thing missing from the L.A. Times account: any showing that the lawsuit-reform groups mentioned, such as ATRA and Common Good, or any similarly prominent group, have in fact circulated the Winnebago/Stella Award stories at all. Credulity being part of the human condition, of course, there are no doubt instances where the newsletter editor of the East Kankakee Citizens for Lawsuit Reform was taken in by a Stella email from his Aunt Fran and passed it along. That the L.A. Times piece does not adduce even one instance of serious backing from such groups should have raised a flag about the quote from Prof. Turley claiming that such stories have been devised with “skill” for purposes of “influencing policy”.

* Thanks to Patterico, Gail Heriot and Southern California Law Blog for linking to our earlier discussion. Among some bloggers of an opposite persuasion, the L.A. Times piece seems to have come as a confirmation of their own dearly held preconceptions on the subject, as with Ezra Klein, John Cole, and Mr. Furious, to some of whose comments sections Ted has paid a visit.

Liability roundup

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.

“The Police Have No Obligation To Protect You. Yes, Really.”

In cases such as DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989) and Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), the Supreme Court has declined to put police and other public authorities under any general duty to protect individuals from crime. The decisions have been broadly unpopular, but Mike McDaniel at PJ Media takes the Court’s side on policy grounds: “This [lack of a particularized duty] might seem absolutely outrageous, but it is logical, rational, and unquestionably necessary.”

August 16 roundup

  • Former producer at “Oprah” show — yearning for the simpler life? — takes job at rough blue-collar outfit. One $500K harassment settlement later… [Des Moines Register]
  • “Insurer writing ‘loser pays’ policies to defendants” [LNL]
  • “$1.4 Million Award Reversed due to Attorney’s ‘Inflammatory’ Comments” [DBR]
  • New book examines shaky evidentiary basis of international criminal law convictions [Nancy Combs]
  • Litigation slush funds, cont’d: new Department of Justice rules steer public settlement money to private advocacy groups [York, Examiner]
  • Second Circuit upholds Judge Weinstein’s steps to curb conspiracy to evade protective order in Zyprexa case [Drug and Device Law, Dan Popeo, NYLJ] More from the busy Dr. David Egilman: “Plaintiff’s Expert Files Appeal in ‘Popcorn Lung’ Lawsuit” [On Point News and more] Also: “Being an Expert Expert Doesn’t Make You an Expert” [Zacher, Abnormal Use]
  • “FTC Seeks to Clarify — and Justify — Its Blogger Endorsement Guidelines” [Citizen Media Law]
  • “Winnebago cruise control” and suchlike urban legends are purposely devised and spread by sinister interests, or so claim L.A. Times and Prof. Turley [five years ago on Overlawyered]

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]

September 17 roundup

Another McDonald’s coffee urban legend

The McDonald’s coffee case came up in a comment-board discussion of the MySpace suit on the WSJ Law Blog, and, as is common thanks to a tremendously successful propaganda campaign by the plaintiffs’ bar, a law student popped up to “debunk” the story. He justified the ludicrous award by arguing that the coffee was so hot to “melt the plaintiff’s pantyhose to her skin.” Well, that is rather hot coffee, if true, since the melting point of nylon is hundreds of degrees higher than the boiling point for coffee, so I would have no problem holding McDonald’s liable if they were selling coffee at a temperature where it ceases to be liquid or solid.

Of course, it’s not true that the coffee was so hot to melt pantyhose (and Stella Liebeck was wearing cotton sweatpants), but one looks forward to Jonathan Turley decrying this urban legend that’s distorting the debate over legal reform.