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.”

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