Law Professor Exposes Phony Tort Cases

Jonathan Turley

Professor Jonathan Turley exposed phony outlandish tort cases.

Although several years old, Professor Jonathan Turley’s USA Today article exposing phony tort cases remains must-reading for anyone concerned about the tort reform movement. Why? Because people are still circulating these tall tales.

You know those crazy tort lawsuits you read about, the ones that make people indignant about the tort sytem, the ones politicians and tort reformers use to build public support for the movement, the ones that get endlessly forwarded to email inboxes?

They’re crazy, to be sure. But, one problem. A lot of the most notorious cases are fabricated, as Turley explored in his article.

The notorious–but apparently fictitious winning-plaintiffs–and their outlandish “cases” include:

• Kathleen Robertson, a woman who–imagine this–received a $780,000 jury award against a furniture store after she tripped over her own son.

• Carl Truman, who won a $74,000 judgment after his hand was run over by a neighbor. The neighbor could not see Truman because he was kneeling down while in the process of stealing the neighbor’s hubcaps.

• Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pa., a man who received a $500,000 award against a garage-door manufacturer after he almost starved while trapped in the garage of a house he was burglarizing while the family was on vacation.

• And my personal favorite, a Mr. Grazinski, who won more than $1,750,000 against Winnebago when the RV he was driving went off the road after he put it on cruise control at 70 mph to go into the back to fix a cup of coffee.

Turley was unable to track down records showing that any of these, or several other notorious crazy lawsuits, actually existed.

It should be more than a little troubling to people that state legislatures have passed thousands of tort reform statutes throwing out 200 years of carefully considered common law (judge-made law) in part based on sound-bite reporting of cases that never happened.

— Jonathan Turley, Legal Myths: Hardly the Whole Truth, USA Today, Jan. 30, 2005.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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