Wikipedia: Still Not A Learned Treatise

Law Practice, Technology

Dog bites mailman.  Poor dog owner: she gets sued.

Poor dog: he's probably been put to sleep.

Poor Wikipedia: it gets no respect from courts.

Poor mailman: he lost his case against the dog owner.

Poor mailman's attorney:  he tried to submit a Wikipedia article as evidence in superior court.

[P]laintiff argues that defendant Castaldo knew or should have known that her dog Dusty possessed a vicious propensity because, again, the Australian Heeler/Border Collie mix is an aggressive breed, and her means of restraining the dog shows her knowledge that the dog was dangerous. However, the only evidence presented by plaintiff that the Australian Heeler/Border Collie mix is generally known to have propensities for aggression comes from an article on Wikipedia.com, an online source that can be changed at any time by any user. In contrast to plaintiff’s Wikipedia article, Defendant Barefoot presented admissible evidence that Dusty did not have aggressive tendencies.

The plaintiff might as well have created a blog, "Dusty Is A Vicious Border Collie Mix," for all the good that Wikipedia did him as evidence.  In fact, I just created one for him. It's every bit as admissible as Wikipedia.

Practice tip for budding attorneys, law students, and scholars:  When it counts, don't count on Wikipedia.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

11 Comments

10 Comments

  1. trinlayk  •  Aug 3, 2010 @7:38 am

    Several years ago, when my DD was in Middle School, they were instructed to "wisely use the Internet" when researching their papers for classes. Wikipedia was Expressly Forbidden as a source for precisely that reason. The teachers knew that the articles can be iffy, or outright wrong/manipulated.

    Judge was perfectly correct in this, since it could have been the plaintiff or his lawyer who wrote the entry!

  2. Patrick  •  Aug 3, 2010 @7:54 am

    Yeah Wikipedia is pretty comprehensive, but I'd view an article about specific breed hybrids pretty suspiciously even without the other defects the site exhibits.

    I note, for instance, that Wikipedia lacks an article on Dachshund – Beagle mixes, which are far more common than Australian Heeler – Border Collie mixes. And I can't find the supposed article on this hybrid for the life of me. Perhaps an editor deleted it.

  3. Professor Coldheart  •  Aug 3, 2010 @10:14 am

    This is just poor library skill on the attorney's part.

    Every Wikipedia article worth its salt lists a few to a few dozen references at the bottom of the page. Links to respectable sources like the Australian National Kennel Association, the American Border Collie Association, etc.

    Go to Wikipedia. Find the article you want. Then scroll down to the Reference links and reference them.

  4. Ken  •  Aug 3, 2010 @12:15 pm

    The mailman's attorney should leave a very strongly worded comment on the court's discussion page.

  5. CTrees  •  Aug 3, 2010 @3:54 pm

    Also in Wiki news: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/08/03/fbi.seal.wikipedia/

    That's right, the FBI is ordering Wikipedia to stop using their seal on their site. The FBI's not big on what the law actually allows, I suppose…

    I wonder if they've ordered Encyclopedia Dramatica to remove their seal, too?

  6. Patrick  •  Aug 3, 2010 @3:56 pm

    What the Hell?

  7. Imaginary Lawyer  •  Aug 3, 2010 @4:56 pm

    Wikipedia is informative. It is not authoritative.

    I did actually have a defense attorney try to cite Wikipedia as evidence. I don't remember whether we had to actually file an evidentiary objection, but let's put it this way, nobody else has tried to do this again in that court.

  8. Tam  •  Aug 5, 2010 @5:47 am

    Stupid Wikipedia!

    Thank goodness that we have sources like Britannica, the NYT, and IPCC Assessment Reports that aren't put together by opinionated, fallible humans!

  9. Patrick  •  Aug 5, 2010 @5:54 am

    Ah, but Britannica and the Times won't allow me or any other man on the street to create a long article about the supposed vicious tendencies of border collie mixes, for use in litigation.

    I believe that's one of the major problem courts have with Wikipedia as evidence. That I can't find a single reference to aggression by border collies, now, at Wikipedia backs up the concern.

    Of course anyone who wishes Wikipedia to describe border collies as aggressive can fix that problem.

  10. Tam  •  Aug 5, 2010 @7:21 am

    True enough.

    (Although I can't resist snarking that it does lend more of a veneer of respectability when both sides' contradictory expert witnesses are properly credentialed. ;) )

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