22
Aug/03

Rollover Samurai. Now Play Dead.


How Appealing reports that Consumer Union has filed cert to appeal a Ninth Circuit decision holding it liable for product disparagement for an article it ran saying, among other things, that the Suzuki Samuria rolls over easily.  This from the dissent:

“Judge Graber also complains that CU said the Samurai rolls over “easily” when, in fact, it had to be “coaxed.” Concurrence at 6512. She apparently fears that readers might assume the Samurai rolled over with no “coaxing” at all. But no one could be so misled. Even tremendously unsafe vehicles roll over only in extreme maneuvers. No one reading that the Samurai rolls over “easily” would infer it routinely flops over with no human intervention.

Saying a consumer vehicle rolls over “easily” is like saying a particular NBA player is “terrible.” The adjective is inherently relative because the reference group is already extreme. A “terrible” professional athlete is one who’s terrible relative to his peers, not relative to the population at large or a class of third-graders. Likewise, the mental image conjured up when one hears the Samurai rolls over “easily” is not of some oopsy-daisy clown car, but a vehicle that rolls over easily relative to other vehicles in its class. And, since all vehicles require some coaxing to roll over, Judge Graber¬ís fear–that readers might be duped into thinking they’ll come out of the supermarket to find that their Samurai had flopped itself over in the middle of the parking lot–is a specter of her own creation. Even ignoring the rollover during break-in and the tip on the long course–not to mention the NHTSA complaint and the media coverage–CU was plainly justified in concluding that, given the alternatives, the Samurai’s rollover propensity was more than what safety-conscious consumers should be willing to bear. And that’s exactly what any reader would understand it to have said.”

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