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In Case You Hadn’t Heard… The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but Lies?

by Keith Hock

Two articles on the Wall Street Journal website caught my eye this week.  The first was titled “The Little Lies Spouses Tell”, which discusses the concept of “protective buffering” to avoid telling uncomfortable truths in order to maintain a happy relationship.  The second was titled “The Economic Truth About Lying” and describes the financial impacts of perjury committed in the US court system.  According to an informal poll of anecdotal assessments from attorneys, at least 25% (and up to 50%) of litigation is impacted by false testimony or documents.  I suspect that the Wall Street Journal did not intend these two articles to be linked but I was struck by the contradictory messages – lying is bad on the one hand contrasted with “protective buffering” (what a great euphemism) to maintain relationship bliss on the other.

I testified as an expert witness in a case just a few weeks ago.  I raised my right hand and swore to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” (and I did).  There were only four witnesses in that particular case, if one of the other three witnesses had lied under oath when testifying (I have no reason to believe that is true – I am just citing this case as an example) what would have been the impact?  Would the plaintiff have won a verdict based on falsehoods or would the defendant have failed to convince the jury even with its lies?  The answer is that no one will know for sure, but money will be changing hands so there may have been a financial impact if someone had lied.

Beyond my one case example, the consequences of lying in court appear to be significant.  Two studies cited in the article provide some rough estimates:

  • According to the 2008 report of the “Coalition Against Insurance Fraud,” nationwide insurance fraud amounts to $80 billion a year.
  • An FBI report on financial crimes for the 2010-11 fiscal year calculated that fraudulent billing to health-care payers, Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurers is conservatively estimated to be $2.4 trillion.

Even if those estimates are half wrong, the impact is still billions of dollars in additional costs directly caused by false testimony and documents provided during litigation and dispute resolution.  This impact is felt by all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums, health care costs and taxes (to pay for false claims made against governments).  In theory, it should be quite a leap from “protective buffering” to perjury in a courtroom but I wonder if acceptance of the former is leading to more of the latter?

What do you think – is it okay to tell the occasional fib to keep relationship peace?  Have you ever been involved in a case where you know a witness perjured themselves?  What was the impact on the case?  Was the witness prosecuted?  Please share your thoughts and stories in the comment section below.

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