Court Watch - Written by Beasley Allen on Tuesday, January 22, 2008 13:49 - 23 Comments
The annual Stella Awards list, a list of the years seven “most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S.,” is nothing more than a fraud on the public. The so-called awards deal primarily with fiction, and many of the lawsuits listed never happened. The examples of what they describe as frivolous lawsuits are at best gross misstatements. The Stella Awards are just part and parcel of the carefully planned efforts designed to destroy the civil justice system. Once these awards are announced, they take on a life of their own. That’s because of the Internet. Unfortunately, the media never bothers to investigate the validity of the cases mentioned in the awards, and then write stories that keep the myths alive.
An example of how these myths orginate is this year’s runaway First Place Stella Award winner. Mrs. Merv Grazinski, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who supposedly purchased a new 32-foot Winnebago motor home, was the winner. On her first trip home, from a football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver’s seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski was supposed to have sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner’s manual that she couldn’t actually leave the driver’s seat while the cruise control was set. It was reported that an Oklahoma jury had awarded the woman $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. It was also said that Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor home. The e-mail that announced the award concludes: “Are we, as a society, getting more stupid?”
The truth is that this sort of nonsense relating to a Winnebago lawsuit never even happened. But, the media bought the story hook, line, and sinker, and never even bothered to check it out. Scores of articles – the vast majority buying the Winnebago story as gospel truth – resulted across the country. Apparently, few journalists bothered to do any research to determine whether they were true. Among outlets falling for the hoax were the New York Daily News, CNN and U.S. News & World Report. In fact, the story actually spread around the world. Readers in Canada, England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and even Vietnam heard about this fictitious lawsuit that never happened. To his credit, Los Angeles Times reporter Myron Levin, who wanted to learn more about the lawsuit, called Winnebago and found out there was no Grazinski lawsuit. He also learned that the company had not changed the owner’s manual to avoid a swarm of copycat claims as claimed by the Stella awards.
The next time an “Internet tale” makes you believe things are even worse than you thought, check it out. Especially when the story suggests that the American court system is stacked against wealthy Corporate America. If you want to check out the “Stella Awards” and decide for yourself whether they are on the level, a good place to go is www.snopes.com, an excellent site that investigates urban myths. Simply search for “Stella Awards” and find out if the lawsuit stories are true or false.
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