Most Outrageous Lawsuits: The Attack on Personal Injury Lawyers Continues Unabated

America Online (AOL) is running an article titled “Most Outrageous Lawsuits.” It appears in the money and finance section of AOL and was also prominently displayed on the AOL home page. As a frequent user of AOL (I really love their product) for the last 11 years, I keep seeing this article over and over.

The “crazy lawsuits” AOL describes come directly from groups like Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) and the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), groups who see personal injury lawyers as the great Satan whose sole mission is to destroy corporate America while lining our pockets with millions of dollars.

These groups rely on a false premise: that the American public cannot be trusted and American juries give out ridiculous awards that are not substantiated by the evidence or even common sense. The groups that vilify personal injury lawyers are entitled to their opinion and there is no question that frivolous lawsuits do get filed. What they are not entitled to is their own facts. But they often do make their own facts, manufacturing insane lawsuits and verdicts that never happened.

Stores of million dollar recoveries in cases that simply never happened fuel this frustration against personal injury lawyers. My personal favorite is the auto accident that resulted from the man who assumed his Winnebago would simply drive itself on cruise control, left his seat and went to make a cup of coffee, and then sued and recovered millions because he was not warned that cruise control did not mean the vehicle would drive itself. Of course, the more powerful examples are the ones at least based on a true story like the McDonald’s coffee case, which has been so distorted by groups attacking personal injury lawyers – and by implication the American public – that the actual facts of the case have been long lost. Click here for the real facts of the McDonald’s case instead of the half story – actually 1/10 story – that gets told over and over again.

As it turns out, AOL may itself have reason to detest trial lawyers. In the past few years, trial lawyers have been the last resort for shareholders and investors to hold AOL accountable for their negligence. The following are just a few examples of AOL’s legal problems:

Just this week AOL agreed to pay $246 million to compensate the University of California for losses to their pension and endowment funds after the company’s stock prices plunged in 2001-2002. The University alleged that AOL inflated it stock price prior to its merger with Time-Warner by misrepresenting its sales, revenues and subscriber numbers (I lost money on their stock as well but I got it mostly after the stock had plummeted).

On February 26, 2007, Time Warner reached agreements to pay $405 million to settle lawsuits related to past accounting problems at AOL.

On February 7, 2007, AOL reached a $105 million settlement with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System that claimed that AOL executives and bankers had artificially boosted the value of its stocks prior to buying Time Warner.

In December, 2006, AOL settled a securities fraud case for $50 million with the state of Alaska.
In September, 2006, AOL members joined together in a class action suing AOL for violating their privacy by posting their search queries online. AOL made public the search queries of over 600,000 members.
In January, 2006, AOL settled a class action for $25 million after the company was accused of wrongfully billing its customers.

In 2005, Time Warner settled a $2.4 billion securities fraud lawsuit stemming from their misstatement of advertising revenue on the eve of its merger with AOL.

In 2004, AOL settled two class actions that claimed it had continued to bill plaintiffs after their subscriptions were cancelled.

I’m not saying this is why AOL is running the story. I really do not know. They may be just feeding into the frenzy attacking personal injury lawyers and tapping into the impulse that many of us have to think that the American public – or anyone not in the room when we are speaking, for that matter – is so dumb. But I wish AOL would ignore its own ulterior motives or the desire to tap into the anti-personal injury lawyer sentiment and present these stories with a little more journalistic objectivity. Otherwise, they should just merge with Fox News.

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  • Ron:

    It doesn’t surprise me that AOL is doing this one bit. Considering the amount of misinformation on the internet that is taken as “fact” what do they have to lose? It feeds into the media sound bites people have been brain washed with as well. Being a media oriented company, the reality is AOL is owned by Time Warner, Inc. which also owns HBO, New Line Cinema, Time Inc., Time Warner Cable, Turner Broadcasting System and Warner Bros. Entertainment touting over 96,000 employees worldwide.

    To their credit they do distinguish lawsuits involving insurance companies noting that the insurance companies will invariably deny the claim “forcing” the injured person to go to court.

    I read the 14 stories and while I don’t know if they are true or not, the only story that really bothered me as being included as a “crazy lawsuit” was the one about a daughter who sued in California for medical malpractice under a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress. The story cites to the a defense oriented firm which I believe objectively stated the case including “In Bird v. Saenz, a daughter brought her mother in for an outpatient surgical placement of a catheter to deliver chemotherapy. While waiting for the procedure to be completed, the daughter overheard an emergency call for a thoracic surgeon. She was told that her mother had suffered complications and might have had a stroke. She then saw her mother being rushed into the critical care unit. Her mother had turned blue and her bed was at a 45-degree angle with her head down. The daughter was told that they had punctured an artery and her mother was bleeding into her chest. She was also told that they were pumping fluids into her to keep her alive until the vascular surgeon could get there. She then witnessed a doctor rushing into the unit with multiple units of blood, and then saw her mother being rushed back into surgery.”

    This is not a “crazy lawsuit” except maybe by medical malpractice insurer standards. The law in CA unlike MD does recognize the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress but under certain conditions which were not found to be present in that particular case.

  • Flu-Bird

    Outragious and stupid lawsuits two recent incedents in the case of the airloner the crashed into HUDSON BAY a passanger who is suing over some minor igsignificat injury and more recent the 16 illegal aliens suing the rancher who captured them THIS IS JUST MORE REASONS WE NEED TORT REFORM After all they made good tort reform a few years ago protecting gun makers from frivolous politicly based lawsuits and get the book THE RULE OF LAWYERS by WALTER OLSON and get a real look at what those vultures and sharks are doing to america

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