One of journalism’s stupider, if relatively harmless, tendencies is to report with a straight face that so-and-so has sued someone for a specific amount of money. So you see stories that start with language like this:
NASHVILLE — Former Tennessee Titans receiver David Givens filed a $25 million lawsuit against the team Tuesday, alleging it withheld medical information from him and encouraged him to play despite being advised that his damaged knee could not withstand the rigors of NFL competition.
Don’t be fooled. You’re being spun.
GIvens can tell the court he wants $25 million, or $50 million, or $10. But the jury, if it found the franchise liable for damages, could give him much less money — or more — depending on the judge’s instructions and guidelines, and its own whims.
Anyone can file a lawsuit demanding any amount of money. The amount in the claim is essentially meaningless. Putting mega-bucks demands into the legal papers is a way for filers of lawsuits to get cheap PR for their cause, and journalists fall for it every time.
That’s why I’m semi-pleased to see stories about the man who, as Reuters put it, has sued Bank of America for 1,784 billion, trillion dollars. The story (and others like it) treats the claim like idiocy it is, and makes an appropriate joke of it, even quoting a mathematician who helps explain the vastness of the number.
Will Reuters now follow up by telling its reporters to stop assisting filers of lawsuits by providing sensationalist PR? I doubt it, but If I ran a news organization, we would never publish or broadcast the amount requested in a lawsuit. Let plaintiffs score their points in other ways.