Thursday, 6 January 2005

Memes aka The Big Lie aka Truth getting on its boots

Although some of the Stella Awards cases are true, many are pure fictition, others are partly true, but changed to make them sound ridiculous. The true cases are also usually told in a slanted way, or the story ignores the fact that the case was thrown out either straight away or on appeal.

The "cruise control" story is definitely false. [ ]

The material below is from a US site, but the comments on the story from people around the world on the sitepoint out that the same process is happening in many places.

The first section is just a quick summary example using 'Stella'.
The section below that is a longer bit giving more examples, websites to check things, tracing some of the history and making the points in greater detail.

You can probably remember the big fuss about similar things and changes made here which have cut back both the health and life expectancy of injured people, and the responsibility of careless and negligent people or groups to not injure us, without much visible improvement in the evils this was meant to cure.
December 03, 2004
Common fraud
You know all those stories you’ve read about ridiculous court cases where greedy plaintiffs and their greedy lawyers collect huge settlements for minor injuries that were their own fault in the first place? The McDonald’s coffee case is the most famous. I’m sorry to say that those stories are fabrications, part of a PR campaign. Some of them are pure fiction. Others have been cooked up by grossly misrepresenting real court cases. The Net has spread them far and wide.

... Even has fallen for them. But then, Snopes would. They grew up out of the old Internet, back when less money was at stake, and they’re dependent on their informants.
Remember, that supposedly huge settlement $2.6 million settlement against McDonald’s wasn’t because they gave Stella Liebeck third-degree coffee burns (though they did, and then refused her offer to settle if they would just pay her medical bills). The punitive damages were because it came out during the trial that in the ten years prior to Stella Liebeck’s accident, over 700 people had been seriously burned by the coffee McDonald’s kept at an unsafe temperature. McDonald’s knew this was happening, but they maintained their coffee at 190 F. anyway ...

the amount of the award wasn’t McDonald’s income for two days, nor even McDonald’s income from coffee for two days. It was two days’ profit from selling coffee that their own spokesman characterized as “unsafe for human consumption.” Ten years of serious injuries didn’t get them to turn down the temperature on their coffee pots. Two days’ coffee profits did.

Common Good's website ( ) claims it’s about “restoring common sense to American law,” and pretends that Common Good is a grassroots organization ... It smelled wrong ...

I looked further. It didn’t take long, and Common Good was at the top of the list.
From the site, 29 May 2003:
Consumer Group & Author Reveal Corporation’s Invisible Hand Behind Attack On Individual’s Legal Rights
Santa Monica, CA
The growing attempt to roll back legal rights for individuals in state houses across the nation is being surreptitiously coordinated by America’s largest corporations through the use of front groups, a national consumer group and author revealed today. …The “Astroturf” corporate consultants masquerading as independent, grass roots reformers, according to FTCR’s research, include:

* Common Good, described in Monday’s front page New York Times story only as “an advocacy group…dedicated to changing what it calls the lawsuit culture,” was founded by corporate defense lawyer Philip K. Howard, the Vice Chairman of Covington & Burling. This leading corporate defense firm represents many of America’s largest corporations, all of whom have a large stake in limiting consumer’s legal rights. The list includes Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Inc., and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, the American Automobile Association, the Association of American Railroads, the American Petroleum Institute, Eli Lilly, ExxonMobil, Goodyear, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Trane, and Union Pacific.

That is, Common Good is a corporate-funded organization whose entire purpose is deception and the spread of disinformation.
In the case of Common Good, the agenda being pursued can be loosely grouped under tort reform, which isn’t a reform movement at all. It’s a massive lobbying and PR campaign surreptitiously financed by business interests. It works to (1.) bring the law into disrepute; (2.) turn public opinion against small plaintiffs by portraying them as greedheads who file groundless or frivolous lawsuits; (3.) spread the idea that American firms are being driven out of business by runaway jury verdicts (which they aren’t)(and by the way, juries tend to make smaller awards than judges do); (4.) likewise spread the idea that American doctors are being ruined by skyrocketing malpractice premiums caused by an epidemic of outlandish malpractice awards (premiums are up, but malpractice awards aren’t, and the greedheads in this instance are actually the insurance companies); and (5.) create a climate of public opinion that will enable them to get laws and regulations permanently changed in their favor.

[To explore] this issue, probably your best single-stop website is ... As the site sums things up,

Tort reform isn’t about fixing a “broken” justice system; it’s about protecting the public image and bottom lines of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. Tort reform isn’t about protecting doctors from high insurance rates; it’s about protecting their insurers from having to pay large judgments. Tort reform isn’t about keeping “greedy lawyers” from filing frivolous lawsuits; it’s about keeping those who are severely injured out of the court system and away from the public eye.
The message is not new. For the past fifteen years, pro-business interests in America have sought to “reform” the judicial and regulatory systems ... by limiting the remedies of injured citizens. Until now ... most states have rejected the more Draconian reforms. In fact, courts in some states have struck down tort reform attempts as unconstitutional.

The tort reform campaign has gained much wider acceptance, however, in the jury box. Many jurors now treat as axiomatic the notion that the nation is plagued with “frivolous” lawsuits and outrageous jury verdicts. The rich and greedy plaintiff’s lawyer has become a part of American folklore. Of course, these stereotypes have not emerged by chance. They have grown out of a calculated attempt by corporate America to portray itself as the helpless victim of an unfair legal system—to cultivate a legal system that favors business interests

No comments: