Denver Bar Association
April 2003
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Urban Legends Keep on Keepin': A determined attorney tracks down the Winnebago on cruise control

by Daniel R. Petersen

I couldn’t believe I heard it in Washington D.C., especially from a prominent attorney and preeminent speaker. On the final day of a two and a half day CLE, this notable speaker began his presentation with an oddity, one of those humorous true-life stories. He told the audience of 1000 attorneys about a newspaper article he recently read. It seemed that one Mr. Grazubski of Oklahoma City received a jury verdict in the amount of $1.75 million for injuries he sustained during an unusual automobile accident.

Mr. Grazubski had just purchased a 32-foot Winnebago. On the drive home, Mr. Grazubski entered the highway and decided to try the cruise control. Having settled on the 70 mph mark, he proceeded to the vehicle’s kitchen intending to make a cup of coffee. You guessed it. The motor home crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazubski suffered injuries and sued Winnebago "because the owner’s manual had not advised him he couldn’t do this." He won.

The speaker relayed this story to us as an actual factual occurrence—something he had recently read in a newspaper. I said to myself, "That’s odd. I heard about this case nearly 10 years ago!" It was unbelievable then, and it is unbelievable now.

I couldn’t get the falsity of the story out of my mind, and immediately following the conference I conducted some quick electronic research. To my amazement, I found two recent versions of the story. I found Mr. Grazubski in the Express Newspapers, reported on Jan. 13, 2003; and The Ottawa Sun, reported on Jan. 15, 2003. Additionally the lawsuit was referenced in the Dec. 22, 2002, Tampa Tribune in a letter to the editor concerning tort reform. I couldn’t believe it. It WAS true. The story had been reported in the newspaper just like the speaker said. I began to think myself either psychic or crazy until my research began to reveal more.

About 15 hits into my on line research, up popped a bigger surprise. The same story had appeared in the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 6, 1996. Yes, that’s right, 1996. My suspicions were confirmed. I had heard this story before.

I couldn’t help but ponder, "Was this a bigger joke than I originally thought?" Or, how many of the 1,000 attorneys had not previously heard this tale? Worse, how many would repeat the story as the gospel truth? And, would the next generation of listeners doubt the credibility of the storyteller or would the story be believed and repeated and repeated and repeated?

I next searched the Internet to determine if there was more to find. My search revealed that this story first originated in the 1970s and began to receive wide spread acceptance in 1984. See, http://www.snopes.com. The most recent version of the story about Mr. Grazubski is made somewhat believable because newspaper articles note that he is the recipient of the "Stella Award." An annual award named for Stella Liebeck. Ostensibly, Ms. Liebeck obtained a $2.9 million judgment against McDonald’s for spilling a cup of coffee on herself. Right, I heard that nearly ten years ago too.


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