Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ridiculous lawsuits

I'm currently writing a book about decision making in the realm of the development, deployment and regulation of technology but I'm thinking about writing another one about ridiculous lawsuits in a similar context. This is partly because we've all heard stories, like this one, about silly cases that should never get anywhere near a busy courtroom, let alone resulted in that daft outcome.

What may seem funny to the casual external observer, however, is rarely a funny experience for the parties on the receiving end, who have had the misfortune of making a mistake in crossing the path of serial, sometimes even unknowing (I doubt Fed Ex management knew about this in advance) or opportunistic litigants with smart or equally opportunistic lawyers. The other problem is that lawyers live in a completely different world to the rest of us - a world where it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do to protect the interests of your client by threatening to sue someone for making furniture out of their cardboard boxes.

A variation on a theme is the vengeful litigant intent on extracting their requisite pound of flesh from someone who has outwitted them, as is the case with school district pressing charges against teenagers who bypassed the filters on school issued laptops. It wasn't difficult, since the admin password was apparently taped on the back of all the machines. Some of the children involved have been expelled from school and we don't know the details of what each individual did with their filter-free freedoms but trying to ensure they all end up with a criminal record is not sensible course of action. Even the police chief caught up in expediting the felony charges doesn't seem to think the kids did anything malicious, (though that could be journalistic interpretation to fit in with the rest of the piece). Whatever happens in the end, very few people will come out of this one unscathed. The parents of the 13 charged have set up a website on the case. They don't want the " kids to get off without appropriate consequences" but the looming consequences are disproportionate.

Thanks to Michael Geist for the links to both stories.

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