It Never Happened

After 40-plus years on the planet, nearly 20 of them in the legal field, I've seen and heard many things. Few shock me. However, three seemingly unrelated incidents have made me wonder whether a new behavioral/sociological trend is emerging.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine stopped at a light in busy 5 p.m. traffic. Her car was then struck from behind by a medium-sized commercial truck. Despite visible damage to both vehicles, the driver maintained at the scene and in subsequent court testimony that no impact had ever occurred. According to him, my friend just made the whole thing up. It never happened. The court found that it did.

In another recent case, the driver of a delivery truck for a well-known office-supply company tried to drive between my client's free-standing, 10-foot-high commercial sign and her building. Since the distance was not quite wide enough for the truck to pass through, the subsequent impact destroyed my client's $7,000 sign. To this day, despite the existence of two independent witnesses, the truck driver maintains that no impact ever occurred. His supervisor, who was not present, backs up the driver and says that my client is just trying to get a new sign.

The other day, another friend of mine was driving down the road behind an SUV that had a pile of lumber sticking out of the back. All of a sudden, some of the wood flew out and hit my friend's car, causing $1,300 worth of damage. The driver of the SUV pulled over only after my friend followed him while incessantly beeping her horn. He denied that any of his wood had gotten loose, telling my friend that the damage to her car had already been there, and threatening to sue her for making a false claim.

She went back to the scene of the original incident, gathered up a half dozen pieces of wood and took them to the local police station. There, the desk officer declined to take a report, saying that since no impact between vehicles had occurred, she should just go through her insurance company.

While minimizing or rationalizing one's bad or negligent behavior is certainly nothing new (I spent much of my adolescence doing just that), I wonder if the complete denial of the most minor occurrence is some sort of new trend. Perhaps it's always been this way and I never noticed. Did cases like the O.J. Simpson fiasco and its result somehow plant the suggestion in the public consciousness that a complete denial is the only way to go? Or perhaps the continuing popularity of Bush Jr., despite an abundance of evidence that the invasion of Iraq was unwarranted and Saddam's WMDs were just a propaganda fantasy, has emboldened members of the public to follow suit and simply deny, deny, deny.

After all, Saddam's been captured, O.J.'s playing golf, Enron's "Kenny Boy" Lay has never been indicted, and Junior could easily be re-elected. Maybe these days the only good occurrence is a non-occurrence.

Joe Weber is an attorney in Costa Mesa and now admits that at age 4 he stole a can of spinach from the family cupboard in order to playPopeye. But if anyone asks, it never happened.


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