Has America Gone Lawsuit Crazy?
February 2, 2001
Step-by-step guides for filing lawsuits are now displayed on the Internet. Cut-and-paste lawsuit kits are being made available to plaintiffs' lawyers. Attorneys are on constant prowl to find something deep-pocket corporations can be sued for. The U.S. devotes twice as much of its gross domestic product on tort cases as any other industrialized country.
Critics wonder if the nation hasn't gone litigation mad.
- A conservative estimate of total annual plaintiff-lawyer income runs to at least $25 billion -- not including the value of judgments won and corporate defense expenditures.
- Tillinghast-Towers Perrin estimates that the overall annual cost of the American tort system -- including payments to injured people, legal fees, and administrative expenses -- was at least $165 billion in 1999.
Observers report that only hours after a big company gets into trouble, plaintiffs' attorneys begin churning out dozens of suits across the country, while coalitions of class-action law firms mount sophisticated, multi-pronged legal, political and mass-media attacks against entire industries -- which can drive multimillion dollar companies into bankruptcy.
Some of the actions are, of course, justified. But the thirst for high-priced settlements and judgments drives some law firms to launch almost laughable actions.
- In 1999, a pair of attorneys filed a national class action against Proctor & Gamble and other manufacturers, claiming that toothbrushes are actually dangerous -- because they can cause discomfort, receding gums and sensitive teeth.
- In 1998, class-action lawyers brought a fraud suit against a sporting goods manufacturer because the company had substituted a free package of three golf balls for free golf gloves it had promised in a promotion.
Source: Mike France, "The Litigation Machine," Business Week, January 29, 2001.
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