It should surprise no one that the United States has had a reputation as one of the most litigious countries in the world for a very long time. And according to an article recently published in the Wall Street Journal, even though it may still seem that way, the reality is that this reputation may be less deserved now than at any point in recent history. In fact, less than two out of every 1,000 people in the country filed a tort lawsuit in 2015.
In 1993, around 10 in 1,000 Americans had filed a tort lawsuit. Some are now wondering why the current decline has been so sharp.
Business owners and lawmakers already know the answer. Having been at the forefront of efforts collectively known as tort reform and various public opinion campaigns, most generally disfavor those that bring tort cases; either the plaintiffs themselves or the lawyers that represent them as they seek justice for the injuries they’ve sustained.
At the same time, many products that were once involved in some of the larger or more common tort cases may have simply gotten safer. For instance, modern car design has reduced the number of injuries on America’s roadways.
However, while the surface may paint a picture that suggests that such suits are no longer necessary at scale, a deeper look shows something much more troubling. Evidence seems to indicate that the number of tort lawsuits is dropping because Americans are being shut out of their courts – either through costs associated with such trials or by laws limiting their rights to file tort cases in the first place.
“We as a society seem to be OK with plaintiffs when they are debt collectors coming in and using the court system more than they used to, but we somehow instinctively think it’s a bad thing when victims of accidents come in and do the same thing,” says torts professor Anthony Sebok. He says that even at peak, the number of tort lawsuits never really matched the number the public perceived were being filed.
And when would-be plaintiffs do think about filing a lawsuit, their own legislators may wind up as the ones who prevent them from following through.
The start of 2017 saw an onslaught of business-sponsored anti-consumer legislation make its way through the halls of the institutions once tasked with protecting American citizens. Some, such as Pennsylvania’s attempt to tax legal services, were wrapped in thinly-veiled disguises meant to show them as beneficial. Others, like doublespeak-laden bills including the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act and Protecting Access to Care Act told people what they wanted to hear while simultaneously stripping them of the very rights they professed to protect.
Maybe our products are getting safer. Maybe our cars do place more of an emphasis on our survival in the event of a collision than they used to. Maybe our restaurants are exercising more care with the food and drink they prepare for us. But make no mistake – there are those that have been legitimately harmed and had their lives ruined as the result of the negligence, carelessness, and greed of others. And those people not only want and have a right to seek justice but need to seek justice and compensation for their injuries to help put their lives back together.
Corporate influence over legislators and lawmakers is making that increasingly difficult. In the meantime, these people can only stand by and watch as their government officials fail them again and again – all while focusing more on their campaign contribution numbers than the rights and lives of those they’ve sworn to represent and protect.