When newspaper publishers fail to edit, damage can result

Nobody is perfect. This is why authors need publishers. Before publication, to limit the risk of a newspaper or magazine being sued for defamation or spreading false information, editors are expected to read each article carefully. For safety’s sake, if the author is advocating something that raises alarm bells – or at first glance seems completely insane – this information should be questioned and verified.

But sadly, publishers aren’t perfect either, and sometimes things fall through the cracks, as these two examples of respected publications dispensing dangerously inaccurate advice show.

Dial “H” for murder: a medical directive in the wrong hands

Across the country, people who have been through tough divorces couldn’t believe what they read in a recent weekend edition of one of the nation’s oldest and most respected newspapers.

The newspaper’s ‘Dear Abby’ gender columnist – who is not a lawyer – was asked: “After a long and difficult process of dividing assets, I found out that my advance medical directive still had my ex-wife as a health care proxy. She can decide to keep me alive or disconnect me from the life support system. Should I find someone else or, in order not to hurt feelings that are already hurt, wait a bit?

So, what does the columnist answer? And remember, he’s not a lawyer… but after what he wrote, he might need to hire one.

“You should definitely keep your ex-wife as your health care proxy, and not just out of convenience or a desire to avoid offense. It’s often best that doctors don’t like their patients, because it’s hard to be objective in making decisions for the people we care about. We make smarter decisions about the people we care less about.

(The columnist attributed this statement about not loving his patients to physician and author Dr. Jerome Groopman, who never said that!)

But this columnist isn’t done with misguided and dangerous legal advice:

“In your case, your ex-wife doesn’t care much about you these days. And because of that, if you suffer a serious injury or illness, chances are she’ll make more rational decisions on your behalf than she would have back when she loved you. deeply.

“Even if you end up remarrying, keep her as your health care proxy. There’s no substitute for the rational coldness that comes from having your ex-wife make decisions for you.

Furious response from readers

The day this column was published, I started getting emails and phone calls from lawyers, doctors, divorced clients, and people just wondering how such dangerous advice could get past the editors. from Journal. “Giving an angry ex that power invites homicide, and that’s why in many states it’s overridden in divorce cases,” every divorce attorney pointed out.

I sent an e-mail to the editor of the newspaper, asking that this dangerous nonsense be corrected. The answer? “We are studying this.” To date, I have not seen any details in the newspaper, but the columnist apologized to me personally and on a site that groups his columns by writing:

“An earlier version of this article said ‘it’s often better that doctors don’t like their patients’, but the intended meaning was not that it’s better that doctors don’t like their patients. Also, the earlier version incorrectly attributed the statement to physician and medical writer Jerome Groopman, based on a misinterpretation of his handwriting.

The neighbour’s tree falls on your car – Who pays for the repairs?

Suppose your neighbor’s tree branch crashes into your car or house, causing significant damage or injury. Who is responsible? Who should the car owner/innocent party go to for compensation?

The September 2022 edition of one of our nation’s most reputable consumer advice publications answered that question by quoting a representative from the Insurance Information Institute, telling readers:

“He is [the innocent] driver’s responsibility to make a claim under their comprehensive insurance.

Oh good? Not so fast.

“Although you can make a claim under your car complete coverage – if you have it – the information provided by the magazine is inadequate,” says La Jolla, Calif., attorney Evan Walker, whose practice focuses on personal injury and property damage cases.

“The innocent person should ask themselves if their neighbor is responsible for what happened because they were warned of having an unhealthy or poorly maintained tree and failed to remedy the situation. This would form the basis for filing a lawsuit against them, but that’s a different story when otherwise healthy trees are uprooted due to storms or acts of God.

“If you have reason to suspect that a neighbour’s tree is sick or in danger of falling, or that limbs are falling on your property, it is essential to document this through photos, videos and, ideally, documentation. a report from a certified arborist.

“Obviously you want to politely bring this to their attention. The notice is key for their insurance to take financial responsibility.

An insurance broker gives his expert opinion

“Unfortunately, the story does not explore the facts that would hold the owner of the tree responsible for the damage and save the innocent driver from facing a possible increase in insurance premiums”, observes Karl Susman, insurance broker based in Los Angeles. An insurance brokerage for more than three decades, he serves the Los Angeles County Superior Court as an expert witness on agent and broker standard of care issues.

“While there is certainly no obligation, you may consider – in writing – offering to pay part of the cost of trimming or removal, which would help establish that the neighbor was indeed warned of the danger.

“Liability depends on the notice – proving that the neighbor was notified that the tree or its branches were in danger of falling,” Susman pointed out.

The funny thing is that the magazine’s current advice goes against what it once said in the past. In an August 23, 2008 article, the same magazine wrote, “If your neighbor knew, or should have known, that the branch was unhealthy, he or she is negligent and therefore liable.

The essential

When a newspaper columnist who is not a lawyer is allowed to give legal advice that has not been directed by a lawyer who handles such cases, readers run a huge risk by following that advice. .

If the publishers involved in these two examples had simply Googled the issue, dozens of articles – written by lawyers – would have popped up.

Lawyer at the bar, author of “You and the law”

After attending law school at Loyola University, H. Dennis Beaver joined the Kern County District Attorney’s Office in California, where he established a consumer fraud section. He is into general law practice and writes a column in a syndicated newspaper, “you and the law. “Through his column, he offers his free help to readers who need down-to-earth advice.” I know it sounds corny, but I love being able to use my education and experience to help, just to to help. When a reader contacts me, it’s a gift.”

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