“Soheil Davood claims his paid subscription to JDate.com, billed as ‘the world’s largest Jewish singles community,’ guaranteed that he would find ‘high-quality, successful Jewish personals without wasting precious time.'” However, he claims that “SuperFriendlyGal” didn’t turn out to live up to her name, and (he alleges) after some initially enticing chat dumped him harshly. “Davood, who is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, claims the Web site is ‘defective’ because it was poorly designed and monitored, which exposed him to ‘serious psychological injury.'” (NBC4.TV, Sept. 20)(via Jeff Lewis).
“The [Tennessee] Supreme Court has ruled that store owners can be sued for causing injuries in a drunken driving accident if they sold gas to an intoxicated driver.” Employees at an Exxon station on Rutledge Pike in Knoxville allowed Brian Lee Tarver to buy $3 worth of gas and even helped him pump it when he seemed unable to work the controls. Victims of his subsequent drunk-driving crash sued the station. “A University of Tennessee professor later determined that Tarver’s vehicle would have run out of gas before encountering West and Richardson if he had not been able to buy more fuel.” Will gas station employees, like bartenders, now need training on how to recognize signs of inebriation? And what are the justices planning to do about card-swipe self-service? (“State’s high court rules stores liable for selling gas to drunks”, AP/WVLT, Aug. 22; Jamie Satterfield, “Ruling says gas stations liable”, Knoxville News Sentinel, Aug. 22)(intrusive registration).
The parents of a rock climber killed by a rock slide while climbing a face at Yosemite National Park have sued the National Park Service for $10 million, armed with the theory of a maverick professor who believes overflow from a waste-water system lubricated and weakened the face. An attorney for the park warns that if the suit is successful it could lead to bans on rock-climbing at Yosemite and elsewhere, and many climbers side with the park, saying those who take up the sport should assume the risk of rock slides. (Eric Bailey, “Another peril for climbers”, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 22; Jerry Bier, “Suit filed in Yosemite rock-slide death”, Fresno Bee, Nov. 4, 2001)(via Southern California Law Blog). Spartacus comments (Aug. 22). Update Dec. 17: court dismisses suit.
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.
To me, the most outrageous moment in the piece comes early, when GWU lawprof Jonathan Turley is quoted saying of stories like the bogus “Winnebago cruise control” tale: “The people that created these stories did so with remarkable skill,” that skill being aimed at “influencing policy”. Turley thus clearly implies that the silly Winnebago story, or the list of supposed “Stella Awards”, or both, were purposely fabricated by sinister if unknown persons in order to influence policy debates, as opposed to, say, originally being someone’s idea of satire and then being passed along by people who wrongly believed them genuine. LAT reporter Myron Levin permits this very serious charge of deliberate fabrication to hang in the air unexamined and unanswered, which does much to set the tone of his piece.
Yet Prof. Turley, a figure much quoted in the press and frequently on camera, offers precisely zero evidence to back up his serious charge that someone deliberately made up the Winnebago/Stella stories and passed them off as real in hopes of influencing policy. Okay, Prof. Turley, either document that charge, or retract it — or else face a very reasonable suspicion that you yourself are willing to fabricate serious charges for which you lack any evidence.
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America for months has been pushing the theme that the L.A. Times ran with today and it, too, offers not the slightest evidence for its claim that someone purposely fabricated the Winnebago/Stella stories to influence policy debates. ATLA’s floating of that theme (“Updated
February 2005”) can be found here (claiming stories are “designed [emphasis added] to perpetuate the myth that there is a ‘lawsuit crisis’ in America … clearly are part of a massive disinformation campaign designed to undermine Americans’ confidence in our legal system,” etc., etc.) Curiously, for an article that raises concerns about supposed attempts by well-organized groups to influence press coverage, the LAT story never mentions ATLA at all, merely alluding vaguely to trial lawyers in a place or two.
Much of this is of course old news to readers of Overlawyered, which four years ago printed an extensive debunking of the bogus stories that the L.A. Times says legal reformers are eager to circulate. We know through referrer traffic that large numbers of web users continue to land on our entry by searching on strings such as “winnebago + cruise control + lawsuit” (& welcome Patterico, Gail Heriot, Southern California Law Blog readers).
Chutzpah champion of the Northwest? “Three years after getting drunk, blowing through a stop sign and triggering a wreck that left her passenger critically injured, a former Idaho resident has filed a $1.5 million claim against Washington’s Pend Oreille County for not detaining her before she caused the crash.” Ashlen Lee, 17 at the time of the accident, says in her claim that a county sheriff’s deputy let her off with a warning in the wee hours although he could see she’d been drinking and neither she nor her passenger was wearing a seat belt. (Richard Roesler, “Driver says her accident deputy’s fault”, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Aug. 5).
Last October the rescue squads of the town of Old Saybrook, Ct., were hailed as heroes for their work in attempting to save Barbara Connors, 75, of Medfield, Mass., from a Ford Explorer that had plunged into the Connecticut River. Connors’ son-in-law, who had been at the wheel and who managed to escape from the vehicle on his own, later told police he accidentally hit the SUV’s accelerator, propelling it through a chain-link fence and into the water below. But now Connors is suing a long list of officials of the town (population 1,962) on the grounds that they should have maintained or funded a specially dedicated and equipped dive rescue team; had they done so, she would have been rescued from the submerged vehicle in less than the 29 minutes it actually took, avoiding serious injury. Through her attorney, Robert Reardon Jr. of New London, she’s also suing the son-in-law. “‘I find it extraordinary the town is being sued in these circumstances,’ First Selectman Mike Pace, one of the defendants, said at Thursday’s selectmen’s meeting.” (Claudia Van Nes, “Town Sued Over River Rescue”, Hartford Courant, Aug. 5; Walt Platteborze, “Woman ‘critical’ after being pulled from submerged SUV”, New Haven Register, Oct. 15, 2004).
Updating our Sept. 30, 2003 item: an attorney for Andrew Bourne of Liberty, Ind., says his client will appeal a recent court ruling that found that a manufacturer of goal posts, Connecticut-based Gilman Gear, is not responsible for injuries Bourne sustained when his fellow Ball State students toppled a goal post after a 2001 football victory. (Brian Zimmerman, “Paralyzed man will appeal ruling”, Richmond (Ind.) Palladium-Item, Jul. 23).
Some call him troubled. Others call him a “coldblooded killer.” Whatever you call him, there is no dispute that this past weekend, Jose Pena used a toddler — Susie Lopez — as a human shield as he exchangd gunfire with the LAPD. As a result, the LAPD shot and killed the toddler, along with Pena. It was reportedly the first time in the SWAT team’s 38 year history that a hostage has been killed by the LAPD. The family of Susie Lopez has retained a lawyer, Luis Carrillo, and accusations of excessive force and cover ups are already flying.
It has also been reported that Pena told the police that he was not going to jail, Pena told his stepdaughter that he was going to shoot his own daughter and Pena threatened his own wife. Had the LAPD not acted in the face of these acts and threats, does anyone doubt that lawyers would be second guessing the LAPD for inaction? (LA Times “Coroner Says Toddler Shot by LAPD Officer,” Jul. 13, MSNBC, “War of words escalates in deadly L.A. shooting,” Jul. 14.)