The news you're not supposed to know...

Austrian Economics: Understand Economics, Understand the World
The Century of the Self: The Untold History of Controlling the Masses Through the Manipulation of Unconscious Desires
The Disappearing Male: From Virility to Sterility

The Obama Deception: The Mask Comes Off
Operation Gladio: The Hidden History of U.S. Sponsored False Flag Terrorism in EuropeThe New American Century: The Untold History of The Project for the New American Century
Article posted Jan 16 2014, 8:59 AM Category: Commentary Source: The Dollar Vigilante Print

Don't Like My Article? I Will Sue!

by Wendy McElroy

Does everyone in America have a lawyer on speed dial?

McDonald's is being sued again by a California woman who claims she was scalded by their hot coffee. In 1990, a New Mexico woman was awarded $2.9 million in a hot-coffee lawsuit against McDonald's; the award was later reduced to about $500,000. Meanwhile, a continent away, a New Jersey woman is suing a real estate developer for not disclosing the presence of a 'bad' neighbor when she purchased a house.

In any other place, these cases might seem odd. But America is the world's most litigious nation by far. The legal site eLocal Lawyer states that 15 million civil suits are filed every year; approximately 55% are decided in favor of the plaintiff. Those statistics do not count the many disputes that are settled before a filing occurs or criminal cases. According to the American Bar Association, there were 1,244,120 attorneys who were actively practicing in 2012; the American population is approximately 313 million.

And, yet, the average American cannot afford to sustain a legal process because of the high cost of a lawyer. Fortunately, at least for lawyers, there are work-arounds on the road to getting paid. In liability cases with some likelihood of success, for example, law firms often take the case 'on spec.' This means they do not charge the client but instead participate richly in any court awards. In other words, the case presents the plaintiff party with no risk and with a high chance of a cash.

America's runaway litigation threatens both individual freedom and the harmony of society. The most consistent risk factor for being sued is wealth. The more assets an entity or person has, the greater the chance of being sued. Lawsuits are yet another way in which America expresses open hostility toward success.


Some effects of America's hyper-litigiousness are obvious. For example, when a corporation announces a change in its customer policies as a response to a substantial payout. Or when your neighbor declares bankruptcy because he cannot afford the damages from someone slipping on his icy driveway.

Less visible effects can be 'chilling' as well. A chilling effect occurs when people avoid the legitimate exercise of their rights because they fear repercussions. A common political example is a journalist who avoids criticizing the government because he fears reprisals, such as being audited by the IRS. An insidious aspect of chilling is that its consequences are often invisible; the journalist self-censors and the public never reads the words that express his true opinion. The impact of what is absent and unseen is as profound as a tangible presence, however. What is absent is freedom itself. The tangible presence is fear.

What are some of the less visible effects of litigious America? Consider the impact on one profession alone: physicians.

Services are absent. The tech site LiveScience reported (June 27, 2013) on a projected “shortfall of between 9,000 and 14,000” in obstetrician-gynecologists over “the next 20 years.” The shortfall is particularly acute as “1 in 7 ob-gyns have stopped delivering babies. More than 20 states are now in 'Red Alert' crisis mode — meaning the number of ob-gyns isn't sufficient to meet patients' needs.”

Two reasons for the shortage are cited: the advancing age of most ob-gyns; and, the high cost of malpractice insurance. (Arguably, this is only one reason. If insurance were less onerous, then younger doctors would be more likely to enter the field.) The highest rates for malpractice insurance were in the New York counties of Nassau and Suffolk with Physicians' Reciprocal Insurers charging $227,899 a year. Why so high? LiveScience noted “the average payment for claims involving neurologically impaired infants was $1.15 million.” 'Birth injury' has become a separate subcategory of legal practice.

Services are unnecessarily expensive. Doctors are notorious for ordering unnecessary tests; this allows a doctor to honestly state in court that he did “everything possible” to treat a patient. A 2008 Massachusetts survey found that 83% of doctors admitted to practicing defensive medicine; 18% to 28% of tests and procedures and 13% of hospital admissions were prompted by a wish to avoid lawsuits. Defensive medicine is commonsense. A study published in the medical journal BMJ Open (July 18, 2013) found that a family practitioner in the U.S. had a 76% risk of being sued before the age of 65. Not surprisingly, there is also a severe shortage of family practitioners who are a bedrock of primary care.

Lawsuits dictate the quality of patient care. As well as providing unnecessary medical care, doctors are reluctant to pursue necessary care that involves legal risk. For example, many of them refuse to prescribe effective pain killers, such as morphine for terminal patients, because morphine is addictive and raises official eyebrows.

[Note: the impact of the ever-evolving Obamacare on doctors is unclear. Public hospital doctors may well enjoy immunity but that would result in higher premiums for private practitioners, driving them out.]

Local events and traditions disappear. I used to volunteer at various events in my rural county, such as local fairs and an aviation display. The events have disappeared. The reason: the volunteer organizers cannot afford to pay the insurance that halls, parks and other venues demand in exchange for access. Newcomers to my small town will not notice the absence of community events or the decline in community spirit. They are like children who use a park for the first time and do not notice the absence of swing sets and jungle gyms upon which their parents played. Noticed or not, life has become a bit drearier, a bit less friendly. (Although my experience is in Canada, friends report the same situation in America, only more so.)

Small businesses never launch or they needlessly perish. Companies and individuals pass along the cost of insurance to customers. Tort liability is part of that cost; this is the legal requirement that companies pay for damages and injuries for which they are deemed responsible, including work injuries. The Concord Law School offered a glimpse of how substantial tort liability can be. “In 2008, the total cost of tort liability in the United States was more than $255 billion, which is equivalent to an $838 yearly tort tax on every American or $3,340 for a family of four. Another study puts the cost at $9,827 for a family of four if all the indirect costs are included. Higher levels...are forecast for 2010 and 2011."


No one argues against a lawsuit that seeks reasonable awards for a genuine harm. But the mass of litigation in America today has moved well beyond reasonable, well beyond genuine.

The United States will not become less litigious in the near future. A growing number of people make excellent money through filing suits against others. It is not merely plaintiffs or lawyers who use the courts to get a pay check. The New York Times (Nov. 14, 2010) reported, “Large banks, hedge funds and private investors hungry for new and lucrative opportunities are bankrolling other people’s lawsuits, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into medical malpractice claims, divorce battles and class actions against corporations — all in the hope of sharing in the potential winnings.” Using the 2010 public records of one state alone (New York), the Times estimated that “more than 250 law firms borrowed on pending cases, often repeatedly” during the last decade.

America's assault on wealth and success is expressed daily basis in the form of frivolous or far-reaching lawsuits. From small town fairs that no longer exist to 'protective' medicine, money-grab lawsuits impoverish the quality of American life.
Wendy McElroy is a regular contributor to the Dollar Vigilante, and a renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of twelve books, the latest of which is "The Art of Being Free". Follow her work

Latest Commentary
- Let's Talk About...The Plague
- With Mass Shootings, The State Makes Us Less Safe
- Good News: 27% Of Americans Say Government Is Their 'Enemy,' Not Their 'Friend'
- Fear Is The Name of The Game
- This Thanksgiving, Let's Say 'No Thanks' to The Tyranny of The American Police State
- Donald Trump's Presidential "Heel Turn"
- Katniss Vs. Power: The Lessons of Hunger Games
- Tracking ISIS to DC's Doorsteps

No Comments Posted Add Comment

Add Comment


Verification *
Please Enter the Verification Code Seen Below

Please see our About Page, our Disclaimer, and our Comments Policy.

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which in some cases has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available for the purposes of news reporting, education, research, comment, and criticism, which constitutes a 'fair use' of such copyrighted material in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the DMCA and other applicable intellectual property laws. It is our policy to remove material from public view that we believe in good faith to be copyrighted material that has been illegally copied and distributed by any of our members or users.

About Us - Disclaimer - Privacy Policy

Advanced Search


Remember Me
Forgot Password?

World's Most 'Adorable' Drug Kingpin Is Actually The Daughter of Texas DEA Head Honcho - 11/26Heroic Cops Protect Community by Raiding a Group of 90-Yo Women Playing Mahjong - 11/26Good News: Law Schools In Decline, Bar Passage Rates Plummeting - 11/26Donald Sutherland Reveals The Real Meaning Of The Hunger Games - 11/27VIDEO: Language Barrier Leads to Seattle Cops Punching Man 17 Times - 11/26Let's Talk About...The Plague - 11/26Drone Pilots Have Bank Accounts and Credit Cards Frozen by Feds For Exposing US Murder - 11/27Pot Breathalyzers: Coming Soon to A Drug War Near You - 11/27

Man Follows Speeding Cop, Finds Out He Was Speeding To Buy PeanutsMission Creeps: Homeland Security Agents Confiscate Women's Panties For 'Copyright Infringement'Cop Shoots Couple's Dog, Threatens Jail For Trying To Save Dog's LifeSWAT Team Shoots Teen Girl & Her Dog During Pot Raid On Wrong HomeDurham, NC Cop Testifies Faking 911 Calls To Enter Homes Is "Official Policy"Indiana Sheriff Says US A "War Zone" To Justify New MRAP Military VehicleTampa Cops Surveil Pot Dealer, Catch Him Selling Pot, Raid His Home & Kill Him"You Just Shot An Unarmed Man!": Witness Says Police Shot His Friend With His Hands Up