How bad is the litigation problem in America?
It has reached epidemic proportion. About 50 million lawsuits are filed
every year. Statistically, each American will be sued five times over
their lifetime. And this doesn’t include all the other potential
threats – divorce, etc. Today, the challenge is not making money
– it’s keeping it!
Why is America so lawsuit crazy? Sociologists, economists, politicians,
and lawyers each have their own theories. Our perception is that we have
too many lawyers, too many laws, and too few judges with the courage or
common sense to summarily throw out the blatantly frivolous lawsuits.
We also have too many juries that don’t rule on the basis of liability.
Their goal is to empty a defendant’s ‘deep pockets’
and redistribute the wealth.
There are also too many incentives to sue. For example, a punitive damage
claim can enrich a plaintiff who has little or no actual damage with a
multi-million-dollar windfall. Nor are there many reasons not to sue.
It won’t cost a plaintiff a dime in legal fees because most lawyers
work for a contingent fee.
There is much wrong with our legal system, but it is not only the system’s
fault, as perverse as it is. The fault is chiefly that as a society we
have become a nation of victims. When things go wrong – as they
invariably do – we instinctively point blame elsewhere. The lawsuit
is the natural consequence of this distorted national mindset.
Walter K. Olson’s The Litigation Explosion explains our litigation
dilemma from a different perspective:
“The unleashing of litigation in its full fury has done cruel, grave
harm and little lasting good. It has helped sunder some of the most sensitive
and profound relationships of human life: Between the parents who have
nurtured a child; between the healing professions and those whose life
and well-being are entrusted to their care. It clogs and jams the gears
of commerce, sowing friction and distrust between the productive enterprises
on which material progress depends and on all who buy their products,
work at their plants and offices or join in their undertakings. It seizes
on former love and intimacy as raw materials to be transmuted into hatred
and estrangement. It exploits the bereavement that some day awaits the
survivors of us all and turns it to an unending source of poisonous recrimination.
It torments the provably innocent and rewards the palpably irresponsible.
It devours hard-won savings and worsens every animosity of adverse society.
It is the special American burden, the one feature hardly anyone admires
of a society that is otherwise envied the world around.”