It was bound to happen and you may have already heard about it, but a lawyer used fake ChatGPT generated case citations. It did not go well for him.
According to CNN (Lawyer apologizes for fake court citations from ChatGPT, written by Ramishah Maruf and available here), Roberto Mata sued Avianca airlines for injuries he says he sustained from a serving cart while on the airline in 2019, claiming negligence by an employee. Steven Schwartz, an attorney with Levidow, Levidow & Oberman and licensed in New York for over three decades, handled Mata’s representation.
But at least six of the submitted cases by Schwartz as research for a brief “appear to be bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations,” said Judge Kevin Castel of the Southern District of New York in this order.
You can guess where this is going, right? Yes, the lawyer used fake ChatGPT generated case citations.
The plaintiff’s submission led off with a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Varghese v China South Airlines Ltd, 925 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 2019). Plaintiff’s counsel, in response to the Court’s Order, filed a copy of the decision, or at least an excerpt therefrom.
Problem #1: The Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in response to the Court’s inquiry, confirmed that there has been no such case before the Eleventh Circuit with a party named Vargese or Varghese at any time since 2010, i.e., the commencement of that Court’s present ECF system.
Problem #2: The bogus “Varghese” decision contained internal citations and quotes to four other cases, which, in turn, were non-existent.
Problem #3: There were five other decisions cited (Martinez v. Delta Airlines, Shaboon v. EgyptAir, Petersen v. Iran Air, Miller v. United Airlines, and Estate of Durden v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines) that, according to the Court, “contain similar deficiencies and appear to be fake as well”.
Schwartz, in an affidavit, said that he had never used ChatGPT as a legal research source prior to this case and, therefore, “was unaware of the possibility that its content could be false.” He accepted responsibility for not confirming the chatbot’s sources.
Well, he “sort of” tried to confirm them…by asking ChatGPT.
“is varghese a real case,” Schwartz asked the chatbot.
“Yes,” ChatGPT doubled down, it “is a real case.”
Schwartz then asked for its source. The chatbot again claimed the false case was real.
“I apologize for the confusion earlier,” ChatGPT replied. “Upon double-checking, I found the case Varghese v. China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd., 925 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 2019), does indeed exist and can be found on legal research databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. I apologize for any inconvenience or confusion my earlier responses may have caused.”
When Schwartz asked the chatbot if any other cases were fake, ChatGPT replied the other cases “are real” and could be found on “reputable legal databases.”
Schwartz is now facing a sanctions hearing on June 8.
I’ve already seen another case where the Court scheduled an Order to Show Cause Re: Sanctions for another lawyer who provided citations to cases that didn’t appear to exist. I haven’t seen the results of the hearing on that, but I suspect a similar result.
So, what do you think? Are you surprised that a lawyer used fake ChatGPT generated case citations? Or are you surprised it took this long? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
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