Episode 107: Pop Torts and the Ready-Made Virality of ‘Frivolous Lawsuit’ Stories

Citations Needed
Friday, April 24, 2020

“Woman Sues TripAdvisor After Falling off Runaway Camel,” reports the Associated Press. “Red Bull Paying Out to Customers Who Thought Energy Drink Would Actually Give Them Wings,” eyerolls Newsweek. “Tennessee man sues Popeyes for running out of chicken sandwiches,” scoffs NBC News.

We see “frivolous lawsuit” stories all the time and have for decades. Seemingly absurd cases of get rich quick schemes often with catchy headlines, a caricature of a plaintiff friendly legal system run amok. These stories play into faux-populist tropes of a country full of lazy poor people looking to cash in and a sleazy legal system that leeches off hard-working Americans.

But how organic are these “pop torts”––or popular stories of frivolous lawsuits––and more importantly, how true even are they? What organizations are behind cherry-picking and teeing up these shameful tales of greed for uncritical writers, editors and producers? Who’s backing them, and what, perhaps, may be their ulterior motives?

Moreover, what are the human stakes to so called “tort reform” and how did it come to be that the vast majority of Americans came to accept the premise that, at some point in the 1980s, we all became amoral lawsuit happy scumbags out to shutdown mom and pop stores and grab a quick buck?

We are joined by the Center for Justice & Democracy's Joanne Doroshow.


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