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Center for Justice & Democracy study on new media

A Center for Justice & Democracy study complains that "new media" overreports big-money plaintiffs' verdicts, while failing to report on all the small-money verdicts and losses. This strikes me as akin to complaining that there was a lot more tweeting about David Freese's World Series walk-off home run, when there are far more Little Leaguers who pop out to shortstop. Of course the news stories that are interesting and novel are going to get more attention than the events that are routine. Readers don't want to read about $15 thousand traffic accident cases, even if there are many more of them than multi-million-dollar propofol cases. Nor should they: the latter has real public policy consequences from trial lawyers putting profits ahead of people, while most traffic-accident cases do not.

So far CJD is doing nothing but identifying the obvious. But then, in its typically shoddy fashion, CJD draws conclusions that its data do not support. As I point out in an interview with Fair Warning, CJD's complaint about shorthand media reports does not support its conclusion that the result is to prejudice plaintiffs and the civil justice debate.

For example, CJD complains that newsrooms fail to mention that caps will reduce verdicts in many cases. But this is hardly a conspiracy by corporate media to promote an image of jackpot justice. It's plaintiffs' lawyers who are using the big (and often ultimately unsustainable) verdicts to draw business to themselves. For example, in Ernst v. Merck, as I pointed out contemporaneously, Mark Lanier's $253 million verdict could not possibly stand under Texas law's caps; indeed, as I predicted at the time, the entire judgment was thrown out for trial shenanigans. But Lanier disingenuously told reporters for over a year that he didn't think caps would apply to his verdict, and stalled the eventual appellate reversal so that he could use the publicity from the megaverdict to sign up thousands of clients that plaintiffs' lawyers ultimately turned into a multi-billion dollar settlement against an innocent defendant. Lanier's loss in Ernst, and the fact that Merck was victimized by thousands of fraudulent cases, didn't get a fraction of the publicity of the initial flawed jury verdict. That sort of analysis is absent from the one-side CJD "study."

Similarly, the exoneration of Toyota in the trial-bar's ginned-up sudden-acceleration hysteria got a fraction of the publicity as the original false claims of the trial bar; Jamie Leigh Jones's false accusations got much more promotion than the fact that they contradicted the evidence and a jury quickly rejected them. Teva and other propofol manufacturers are being dragged through the mud in the coverage of the Nevada litigation over propofol misuse, while the unfairness of that litigation gets a fraction of the coverage, and almost never mentioned in the stories about the big verdicts themselves. Susan Saladoff's dishonest documentary on the McDonald's hot coffee case has a far bigger footprint on the web than the truth about why the case is frivolous. (Ironically, Wyzga does a mea culpa for taking the CJD study on faith without considering the other side of the story, and then repeats the mistake with "Hot Coffee" in the next blog post.) conclusions on faith without considering the other side, and The media is far more likely to report sympathetically about litigation as a David-and-Goliath story when, in fact, the trial bar is wealthy and politically connected, and willing to use that power to extract wealth using trumped up allegations that fail to distinguish the innocent from the guilty. Again, this sort of analysis is absent from the CJD paper. The legal establishment promotes CJD's dishonest blog, while debunking websites are ignored.

Yes, media coverage of the civil justice system can be sensationalistic and skewed (as is the media's coverage of most events). But it's corporate defendants that bear the brunt of it.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.