NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Litigation is Changing The Face of American Society

July 31, 2002

The threat and reality of being sued by just about anyone for just about anything is altering how Americans go about their business, says author and legal observer Philip K. Howard.

  • In medicine, the threat of malpractice suits and skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates are forcing one in 10 obstetrician/gynecologists to stop delivering babies.
  • Reputable companies are reluctant to bid on homeland-security contracts, because they don't want to have to face civil liability if a terrorist slips through.
  • Many teachers and principals -- tired of legal threats from zealous parents -- now avoid the ordinary disciplinary judgments needed to maintain order in the classroom.
  • Playgrounds are being stripped of time-honored sources of children's exercise and amusement, such as seesaws and swings, because if someone gets hurt, someone else gets hurt by being sued.

Howard challenges the notion that we all have a "right to sue." He argues that limiting lawsuits is a critical tool of social policy. For example, Americans cannot sue utility companies for damage sustained from blackouts, because legislation long ago prohibited such suits in order to keep utility bills from skyrocketing.

Source: Philip K. Howard (Common Good), "There Is No 'Right to Sue,'" Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2002.

For WSJ text,,SB102807662822805480,00.html


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