Tuesday, February 19, 2008

These Journalists Are Professionals You Know

Overlawyered links to some just plain ridiculous legal coverage. You know, the very thing I was discussing last post, about how professional journalists can get technical subjects wrong. In this case it's not really all that technical.

The Supreme Court denied cert ("rejected an appeal" for you non-legal types) on a 5th Circuit decision that upheld flood insurance exclusions againast Katrina victims who had sought to render those terms of their insurance agreement invalid due to ambiguity. Legally, this is a technical matter, and judging from what little I've read, seems very straight forward. Some people didn't have flood insurance but they're trying to get their insurance companies to pay for flood damage anyways. The District Court actually ruled againast the insurance companies, but that decisions was overturned by the 5th Circuit and the Supreme Court didn't think there were any legal questions for them to decide.

Yet here are the headlines, as noted both on the Overlawyered post and by a commenter:

The local story says "The Supreme Court has refused to offer help to Katrina victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to their homes and businesses."

And the sub-headline on MSNBC declares "Aid is refused for victims who want funds for businesses, homes."

Overlawyered highlights this as liberal media bias, but I think the answer is a much more simple case of will full ignorance. These sort of headlines and lead offs don't just mislead the general public about this story, they mislead the public about the very nature of the legal process. As insurance law blogger David Rossmiller notes,

As if the choice in a case is simply going where your sympathies lie, and when the court decided not to take the appeal, the halls rang with evil laughter and mocking statements such as this: "We will extend no help to Katrina victims because we love to see them suffer and we love to support our evil twins, the insurance companies who steal from them."


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