Lawsuits

The Dumbest Lawsuit Yet About Lance Armstrong


Lance Armstrong finishes the 2012 Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Aspen Mountain in Colorado

Photograph by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images

Lance Armstrong finishes the 2012 Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Aspen Mountain in Colorado

Do you believe anything disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong says? I don’t. But I also can’t believe that a bunch of consumers in California have filed a class action complaining they were ripped off by Armstrong’s now-discredited autobiographies.

You read that correctly. Having discovered that Armstrong, despite years of increasingly implausible denials, actually did use performance-enhancing drugs to win all those yellow jerseys at the Tour de France, the plaintiffs now want $5 million, the biggest share of which undoubtedly would go to their lawyers. You see, when they read It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, the plaintiffs thought it was 100 percent true. Celebrity autobiographies, after all, are known for their factual precision.

Some people might just toss the book, write off the $20-odd purchase price, and get on with life. These putative victims, though, want compensation. More accurately, their lawyers hope the publishers will pay good money to make the courtroom nuisance go away. The filing in California reflects that state’s unusually expansive consumer-protection statutes. Those laws, though, are meant to shield buyers of truly dangerous and defective products. The Armstrong autobiography suit, in contrast, is the sort of laughable shakedown that makes the American plaintiffs’ bar an object of ridicule (and fear) worldwide. It’s also the sort of suit that has encouraged the federal courts in recent years to get stingier in allowing class actions to get off the ground at all, a trend that doubtless blocks some meritorious claims on behalf of people who have actually been seriously harmed.

The Armstrong book suit, filed in January, names the cyclist personally, as well as Penguin Group, which published It’s Not About the Bike in 2001, and Random House, which put out a 2003 Armstrong self-celebration called Every Second Counts. (Both books were co-authored by sportswriter Sally Jenkins.) The National Law Journal reports that Armstrong’s attorney, Zia Modabber, denied the allegations. “The few paragraphs where Lance denies using performance-enhancing drugs don’t turn books about his entire life into works of fiction,”  Modabber said. The publishers have moved to dismiss the suit, and a federal judge in Sacramento has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 8.

Kevin Roddy, the New Jersey plaintiffs’ attorney who filed the suit, told the Journal: “The claim against the publishers is that at some point in time they knew or should have known that the books were lies.” Perhaps. But is litigation the appropriate way to address the Armstrong fiasco? Why should taxpayer-funded federal courts spend time and energy on the question of what Armstrong’s co-author, editor, and publisher knew and when they knew it?

Let’s pull up our socks, people. You got taken by Lance, along with a lot other fans. I mean, you don’t sue the supermarket magazines when they fake you out about whether your favorite movie star is pregnant with someone’s love child. Or is that next?

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, which tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador, will be published by Crown in September 2014.

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