Email Prompts Internet Search For the Facts

Date: February 5, 2008

A friend of mine sent me an email the other day which set forth information and “facts” involving six “outrageous” lawsuits and trumpeted the need for tort reform. The email stated, in part, as follows:

This is what’s wrong with the world:
1.January, 2000: Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $780,000 by a jury after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running amuck inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving tyke was Ms. Robertson’s son.
2. June, 1998: Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran his hand over with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently didn’t notice someone was at the wheel of the car whose hubcap he was trying to steal.
3. October, 1998: Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Penn., was exiting a house he finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up because the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He couldn’t re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation, so Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for eight days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found, and a large bag of dry dog food. Dickson sued the homeowner’s insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of half a million dollars and change.
4. October, 1999: Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas, was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor’s beagle. The beagle was on a chain in its owner’s fenced-in yard, as was Mr. Williams. The award was less than sought after because the jury felt the dog may have been provoked by Mr. Williams who, at the time, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.
5. May, 2000: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her coccyx. The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson threw it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.
6. December, 1997: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware, successfully sued the owner of a nightclub in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.
7. December, 2001: In November, 2000, Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32 foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, having joined the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he could not actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago.

Now I had received several emails like this over the years and the facts and circumstances seemed too far-fetched to merit a response. The message of these emails alludes to the need for tort reform in light of the odious conduct of the plaintiffs and the outrageous jury awards. As a lawyer, you develop a tough skin as the public views the profession as greedy and opportunistic. But this time I decided to search the internet and see if I could find any information on these seven lawsuits referenced in the email. The internet has spurred the mass proliferation of emails which dispense information to thousands of people as emails are forwarded with the click of a button. I thought that the facts of these tort-reform championing emails smacked of urban legend -a type of a modern folklore consisting of stories thought to be factual by those circulating them. Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time. Often, upon receiving an email with a seemingly improbable premise (alligators living in the Manhattan sewers, “Paul” from the “Wonder Years” is now Marilyn Manson, etc.), I access www.snopes.com, an internet website which debunks or confirms the accuracy of these mass-circulated emails.
Lo and behold, snopes.com has debunked ALL SEVEN OF THE “CASES” IN THE EMAIL AS TOTALLY FALSE!!!! A search of the names of the parties to the lawsuits and the courts involved failed to reflect any such court filings or jury awards.
We live in a world where lawyers are viewed with scorn and discontent. In this climate, such emails meet with a receptive public perception as the current feeling is against large jury awards for bogus claims. But the call for tort reform as championed by big business and the insurance lobby potentially denies those in need of a legal remedy their day in court and declines them their right to be heard. “Caps” on jury awards is also unfair to those who are seriously injured as they may deserve a large award to fairly compensate them for their damages caused by the conduct of another. Big business stands to profit immensely from tort reform and capping jury awards. Capping an award will not deter a large corporation who may be able to afford to pay the damages.
So, the next time you receive a “chain” email that talks about an outrageous jury award, do yourself a favor and research some of the the facts. Remember, don’t believe everything you read..and only half of what you see.

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.