The SE Texas Record Oct. 8, 2012, 2:52pm

If you go to a good university and really apply yourself, you can get a decent education. On the other hand, you also can emerge from the groves of academe with less smarts than you started with. 

Take Frank Vandall, for instance. He’s had lots of schooling.

Vandall’s got a BA from Washington and Jefferson College, a JD from Vanderbilt, and an LLM and an SJD from the University of Wisconsin.

Vandall’s been in school his whole life. He’s served on the law school faculty at Emory University since 1970.

Vandall teaches courses in torts and product liability. He’s a recognized authority who’s frequently quoted in major newspapers like the New York Times.

Vandall was cited in the Times earlier this month, commenting on a series of cases involving product liability. He seemed not to know what he was talking about.

Over the last five years, several lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Texas against Blitz, the Oklahoma-based manufacturer of 75 percent of the portable gas cans sold in America.

In some cases, the company paid settlements to make the plaintiffs go away. But it did try to defend itself against a suit filed by a Utah man who blew up his trailer and killed his two-year-old daughter when he poured gasoline from a Blitz container into his smoldering wood stove.

Believe it or not, the court awarded the reckless father $4 million.

Blitz is now giving up, laying off its 100-plus employees and closing the plant it’s operated for half a century.

According to the Times, Professor Vandall “questioned why the company paid settlements if it thought it could win in court.”

Why settle? Because going to court is expensive, even if you win, and there’s no guarantee of that. Don’t forget that Utah man who was awarded millions in damages even though he poured gasoline into a smoldering stove fire. Being innocent is not always sufficient to guarantee a just outcome, especially in plaintiff-friendly venues like Southeast Texas.

Classroom hypothetical lectures and courthouse reality often are at odds with one another and Vandall doesn’t seem to know this hard truth.

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