Positive Comments About Living In A Litigious American Society Obsessed With Filing Lawsuits
Published 3/5/08 (Modified 3/8/11)
As one who used to practice law as an attorney, I've only had a smattering of exposure to ambulance chasing - the layman's term for legal work that embodies mostly straight forward and very lucrative personal injury type cases. However based on the exposure I've had, I still retain some pretty strong opinions in counter response to persistent public calls for handicapping the wheels of litigation and placing caps on large damage awards.
Much of this anti-lawyer sentiment is based on mainstream public mistrust of trial attorneys and the work that they do. While I agree that our population has evolved into a society a bit too obsessed and even paranoid about lawyers and lawsuits, I think the passionate furor and lemming-like disdain of litigation beguiles its importance as one of the key cornerstones of what makes our country so democratic and free. Lest we forget, it is because of our pro-litigation society that our businesses and services have been able to consistently deliver such quality and corruption free excellence. Not all of society and the business world will forever remain pure and blameless, but should their actions harm or damage any person or entity, we as Americans can always rest assured that the offending parties will be held accountable. No where else in the world is there such a reliable guarantee in place.
A Pro Litigation Society Protects Quality and Advances Our Individual Rights and Freedoms
I frequently hear and read about writers and individuals who like to complain about lawsuits and denounce those who file claims for substantial amounts of money that the writer deem as frivolous. In my opinion, such genuinely frivolous causes of action would ultimately be summarily dismissed by the presiding judge of the case. But before that can happen, everybody must be able to have their entitled day in court. Thereafter, if the suit was initiated without merit or the reasonable likelihood of success, there are counter fines and sanctions available to punish the plaintiff for wasting the court's time.
Many people like to blame greedy individuals and sleazy lawyers for filing frivolous and wasteful lawsuits. I agree that there are some wrongfully filed claims out there, but the majority are legitimate and in pursuit of damages for legitimate redresses of injury. I think most people in the United States would boldly state that they are against lawsuits - that is, until it is their turn to sue somebody. If the God forbid day should ever arrive when an uninsured business van driver negligently slams into your car, permanently rendering a close family member paralyzed for life, you'll be glad we don't live in a society where they tell you to just brush it off and let it go. You'll be glad we live in a nation where you can personally seek the court's protection to compensate you and your family member for your injuries and to ensure it never happens again. It is not above revenge, but about justice and fair play.
Without the developed and reliable ability to file individual lawsuits, as citizens, we would be powerless to effect positive societal change beyond begging and lobbying our own governmental representatives to legislate the law in our favor. Living in a litigious society is actually empowering for the lowly individual. It is by this developed common law system of precedence and judicial resolution that has compelled American businesses to become the most safe and reliable in the democratic world.
In the infamous McDonald's millionaire dollar hot coffee case, a woman accidentally spilled hot coffee on her lap while waiting at a McDonald's drive-thru and badly burned herself. Although the case seemed trivial and common-sensical, the case set the precedent for more improved temperature safety warnings and control. When we buy American products and utilize the services of American doctors today, we have very high expectations of quality and competence. It's easy to blindly blame the unrepresentative pool of greedy lawyers out there, but remember, it was the successfully litigated precedents set by the product defect and physician malpractice test cases that made our system so driven towards fighting wrongdoing and rooting out faulty products. It's not a perfect system, but it's the best we've got for our large diverse population.
Money Is How Our Civilized Society Settles Disputes
This is no longer the wild wild west. When you have a problem with someone, when your personal property is damaged, or when you are injured due to someone else's negligence, you don't attempt to duke it out through hand to hand combat or resort to one-on-one pistol duel challenges anymore. More modern and civilized methods of dispute resolution have developed and evolved - culminating into a common law adversarial legal system that centers around the recovery of monetary damages. The reason why we always hear about plaintiff individuals filing lawsuits for money is because money is the primary medium of recovery that our legal system permits. Sometimes when monetary damages is insufficient, the court will permit specific performance or injunctive action, but in the vast majority of cases, the mode of redress is by forcing the losing defendant to pay the plaintiff.
The reason why recovery damages sometimes soar into the millions of dollars is because other than compensatory damages designed to put the plaintiff back in the same position he would have been in had the injury never occurred (thereby "making him whole"), courts sometimes grant additional punitive damages on top of that. These type of punitive or treble damages are usually extremely high, and designed with punishment in mind. In one case I read about, a defendant was found by the court to be liable for intentionally setting his neighbor's cat on fire and burning the kitty to death. The court awarded a mere $200 of actual damages for the cat, regarded as personal property, but slapped something like an additional $5,000 of punitive damages to punish the defendant for his outrageous action. This is what justice is all about and the type of grievances our pro-litigation society was meant to protect.