A few weeks ago, I noticed that the Westlaw version of Thorn v. Blanchard, 5 Johns. 508 (N.Y. 1809), has an error: Westlaw lists the opinion as coming from the Supreme Court of New York, which isn’t now and wasn’t then the highest court of the state. The opinion actually comes from the Court for the Correction of Errors, also known as the Court of Errors, which was indeed New York’s highest court; that court decision was reviewing a lower court judgment from the Supreme Court of New York. And the difference is significant, as differences between a decision of a jurisdiction’s highest court and a lower court tend to be.
I therefore e-mailed Westlaw, so that others wouldn’t be tripped up by the same problem. But much to my surprise and disappointment, the Westlaw reference attorney informed me that Westlaw will not correct the error. In the original e-mail, I was told that “this case is too old for us to investigate further,” so I responded with a PDF with the front page of the case copied from the reporter, just to save Westlaw the work of investigating. But the reference attorney still refused, writing that “our Cases department will not change a case that old.”
That strikes me as a bad policy. I realize that Westlaw likely makes very little money from its old cases, and that experienced Westlaw users know some errors are inevitable. But Westlaw is still in the business of providing reliable information to its users. When it learns that there’s a demonstrable error in its database, it should correct it, rather than knowingly continuing to provide incorrect information. The organization’s unwillingness to make the correction — especially when the correction is likely to be cheap and easy, if a user is willing to send them the necessary supporting evidence — suggests that it doesn’t have much of a commitment to accuracy and product quality.
I’ll still keep submitting corrections for more recent cases, since my goal there is to help my fellow legal researchers, not to help Westlaw as such. But this experience definitely downgrades my opinion of Westlaw.