Family Radio’s Harold Camping predicted the apocalypse was going to happen on May 21 2011-last Saturday. Despite the description of many that the blogosphere is Hell on Earth, you are reading this . Therefore, the prediction was obviously wrong. Good thing too, because all the work on the redesign of this blog would have been for not. (Too busy to read the rest? listen to my radio interview on the topic with Scott Braddock of KRLD Radio Rapture Radio Interview KRLD)
AdWeek’s Tim Nudd asked whether people could sue for false advertising. The FTC, afterall, has general authority under Section 5 to pursue claims for false and misleading advertising. As explained by attorney Michael McSanus @AdLawGuy, however, it does not appear the folks behind the advertisement were telling people to send them money because of the claim, or that they did not genuinely believe their own prediction. Most “predictions” are not actionable. Otherwise, people who lost money gambling on football could sue Lee Corso every Saturday for his failed college football predictions.
In addition to false advertising, Texas recognizes a claim for detrimental reliance which requires a the defandant to make promise foressing the plaintiff will rely on the promise and the plaintiff detrimentaly relying on the promise. The textbook example is when someone offers you a job so you quit your existing one, move your entire family and then find out there is no job when you arrive in the new city. It is foreseeable that some people did some crazy things relying on the prediction. The problem with such a claim in this case is that your reliance on the promise has to be reasonable.
People have done a lot of crazy things relying on a lot of religions, but no court wants to get mixed up in these issues. The Supreme Court of Texas has written: “To avoid conducting ‘heresy trials,” a court may not adjudicate the truth or falsity of relgious doctrines or beliefs.”
In the Adweek post, McSanus joked, “To be safe they should have put some disclaimers on the billboards—like ‘Date subject to change without notice,’ ‘Additional terms and conditions apply. See Bible for complete details.” Being an online attorney, I checked the referenced website (sorry no links for them) to see what the terms of service might include by way of disclaimers. I didn’t spend much time on the site in case the rapture came to my laptop, but the site was interestingly devoid of any terms of service or any other disclaimers.
Apparently, they are now predicting the end of the world is coming in October. They have time to lawyer up and ad some disclaimers.
For a humorous look at the probate ramifications, check out David Shulman’s South Florida Estate Planning Law Blog’s take on it.