February 16, 2006

Oy(ez), the Inaccuracy

by PG

I love many of the features of Oyez, but in their drive to have all that cool stuff that other sites don't -- oral arguments on podcast! a virtual tour of the Supreme Court building! -- they often short the one thing most legal websites do manage compentently: accurate descriptions of the facts and issues in a case. Take Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Ahlborn, which is up for argument at the end of this month. The Oyez summary begins by saying that Ahlborn "was injured and permanently disabled in a car accident" and "received Medicare payments totaling $215,645 through the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS)," but later declares the question presented to be "Do federal Medicaid statutes limit the amount a state can recover in reimbursement from a third-party payment to the portion earmarked for medical treatment?" While Medicare is a program for the disabled as well as the elderly, the ADHS would be much more likely to be fighting over Medicaid, which provides health care for low-income people.

Looking for a consistent story, I had my assumption that this was only about Medicaid confirmed by Duke Law's Supreme Court Online, where the writer of the summary appears actually to have read the 8th Circuit opinion under review. This revealed another inaccuracy in Oyez: "Only $35,581 of the settlement was earmarked for her medical treatment." No such earmarking was done; the opinion states, "This was a lump-sum settlement that did not allocate Ahlbornís recovery among her various claims." The $35,581 is the amount the state and Ahlborn have stipulated that she will pay if she wins the case going before the Court, "a fair representation of the percentage of the settlement constituting payment by the tortfeasor for past medical care."

It's a silly thing to be troubled by, but the incorrect descriptions on what purports to be a legal website bother me so much because I worry that they'll be relied upon by people who think they lack the time or expertise to read and understand the opinions or briefs filed -- i.e., journalists and others whose job is to make slightly obscure information easily digestible to the general public.

February 16, 2006 11:44 AM | TrackBack
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