The Mysterious Case of the Rambunctious Toddler
“A lie will go round the world while truth is still pulling on its boots.”
As a lawyer, I know how unpredictable juries can be. Sometimes decisions reached after a trial can seem create enough head scratching to sprain one’s fingers - especially to someone whose knowledge of the case is limited to a single paragraph news article. For the most part, juries get a bad rap. Indeed, in a study by the American Bar Association, more than 80% of respondents agreed that the American jury system is the best means to resolve legal disputes (which is good since the right to a trial by jury is one of our constitutionally guaranteed rights).
But some people are really upset with the legal system - and the jury system in particular. Outrageous stories of mystifying jury awards make the rounds are cited in newsletters, magazines, and books. Most of us can cite to some of them. One rather infamous example commonly used to motivate business owners to protect their assets or to call for changes in our legal system concerns the Case of the Rambunctious Toddler (and the Greedy Mother):
“Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was shopping in a furniture store and tripped over a toddler running through the store. She broker her ankle and was awarded $780,000 by a jury for her injuries. The store owners were probably very surprised by the verdict in light of the fact that it was Ms. Robertson’s child who tripped her!”
6 Hour Guide To Protecting Your Assets, Martin M. Shenkman, 2003, at 11.
“Where were [those American citizens who believe the jury system is the best system] when a jury awarded Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas $780,000 because she broke an ankle when she tripped over her own toddler who ran amuck in a furniture store?”
O, Say Can’t You See, Joseph Sterling, 2008, at 206.
“We are all aware that governments and government agencies are prone to making colossal blunders on occasion. … The court system provides a plethora of examples, like Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas who was awarded $780,000 when she broke her ankle. The incident occurred when she tripped over an unsupervised toddler who was using the furniture store as his own private playground. The toddler was hers!”
God with Us: Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, Thomas Barton Philpott III, 2008, at 111.
In addition, the story of Kathleen Robertson and her misbehaving toddler found its way into the thriller Life of David Gale by Dewey Gram (one of the most sought after writers in the novelization of motion pictures arena), a novelization of the fictional motion picture written in 2003. See http://jamesverini.com/a-writer-whos-adapted-when-a-movie-needs-novelizing-dewey-gram-is-hollywoods-head-writer/
The earliest date given for the case we shall call Robertson v. Furniture Store is 2000 (in an e-mail sent by an experience attorney to a law professor at Northwestern University). Despite searches to the locate its origin, including an examination by the Northwestern professor of local newspapers, court dockets, verdict reporting systems, and court reporters, this case has never been found. Its fictional nature was described and explained in a legal symposium held at Yale Law School and discussed in an article on truth, justice, and juries published in a Harvard University law journal in 2002. If you notice the publication date of the above books, you’ll notice that every one of them was published after the falsity of the Robertson case was presented and available online.
So the next time you receive an e-mail listing outrageous jury verdicts and asking you to forward it on to your friends and family, take a second to see if Ms. Robertson and her toddler are mentioned. If she is, do everyone a favor and hit the delete button, not the forward command.
Just because something is in print, doesn’t make it so!