I've been a fan of Randy Cassingham since near the beginning of his online newspaper column called "This is True." In September of 2002, after getting really annoyed by the fictional "Stella Awards" making their way around the Internet (the awards are named for Stella Liebeck, the woman who spilled hot McDonald's coffee in her lap and made millions), Randy decided to create the "True Stella Awards," a regular online newsletter that would highlight real cases of frivolous lawsuits and a justice system gone mad. Now, three years later, he's written a book by the same name (published in 2005). The True Stella Awards is not just a book full of cases from his newsletter, however. It also contains facts demonstrating the extreme cost of these lawsuits; Cassingham documents the fact that twenty states are in "crisis" due to specialized medical practitioners reducing their services to avoid "high-risk cases that tend to generate lawsuits.". Finally, it has some concrete solutions to what everyday people like you and me can do to help alleviate this situation. It's also a darn good book.
The meat of The True Stella Awards is, of course, the cases. These are taken from the newsletter, so subscribers to it (like I have been, from the beginning) have read all of them before. That is not a bad thing, however, as it's nice to revisit them. These cases range from "Agents of Change" (lawsuits to suit a political or other type of agenda) to medical cases to "It's not my fault" types of cases. It's amazing how many people try to use the court system to adjudicate petty disputes that could probably be solved over a beer. There are people being stupid and thinking they should have somebody else pay for it, and many others. But probably the most important (and best) chapter is on SLAAP lawsuits - "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" - which are usually a corporation's attempt to intimidate somebody (or some organization) into doing what they want by filing a lawsuit against them. Most defendants in these cases can hardly afford to defend themselves in a lawsuit, despite the fact that they may be in the right. They also have a chilling effect on others who may want to do the same thing.
The best example of this (and probably the best write-up in the whole book) is the Sharper Image v. Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine) case. Consumer Reports tested air purifiers and the Ionic Breeze Quadra came in dead last. Sharper Image didn't think the testing was fair, Consumer Reports ran another test which had the same result, and Sharper Image sued them for the bad review (that should send shivers down any reviewer's spine). This was a blatant attempt at intimidation, and they were rightfully slapped (no pun intended) down for it. This is probably one of the most detailed write-ups in the book, and Cassingham covers it well, giving all of the details he could about the issue.
I really appreciated how much effort went into all of the write-ups. Cassingham is very thorough. Not only that, but he documents his sources. He lists the URLs of the newspaper or other online source where he obtained his information. When possible, he details the aftermath, though many cases were still pending as the book went to press. Occasionally, he provides fact boxes with something relevant to the case, such as the one I mentioned earlier. One minor fault with the book is that two of the first facts he provides don't really fit in with the rest of them. One is about how many people worldwide practice voodoo, and the other one is that Oreos are the number-one selling cookie in the country. Since the rest of the facts are about legal issues, either the outlandish cost or something like that, these facts standout as being superfluous.
Near the end of the book, he provides a chapter of responses from certain lawyers either complaining about his newsletter or trying to defend what they do. There's even a response from the ATLA (American Trial Lawyers Association) criticizing what he's doing. Cassingham shoots them all down with relative ease, further making his point that the system has gotten out of control. He takes great pains to note that not all lawyers are like this and that some lawyers are among his greatest fans. Not only that, but it's not only lawyers who are responsible for the situation. Some judges, people who file these suits, and certain aspects of the system itself are also at fault. Thus, reforming just one area will not help. Cassingham makes this point very clearly.
That's a hallmark of the entire book, however. The writing is very clear and concise, the case write-ups are interesting (the links provided mean you can go check them out yourself to make sure he didn't create a bias one way or the other) and his suggestions are quite logical. He can also be quite witty, sometimes in a sarcastic way. The cases he provides are funny by themselves but horrifying when you take them all together. Maybe that's why this book is necessary. Taken as a monthly (or whenever Cassingham has time to put it together) email newsletter, the cases almost seem isolated. Put together in a book like this, they become even more frightening. People roll their eyes when they hear about cases like this, but they really should be doing more. The True Stella Awards (both this book and the newsletter) illustrates why that is. It's also a lot of fun to boot.