Lemon: A litigious vortex of blame saps U.S. economy
Vail, CO Colorado
An Aspen skier sued another skier this week. The lawyers timed the filing to just before the deadline for the lapsing of the statute of limitations. We’ve already heard that 8-year-old Scott Swimm doesn’t want to ski anymore because he accidentally hit someone and that a 60-year-old man is suing him. The United States is the most litigious society in the world, and it costs all of us. The culture of litigation is a drain, a leach on our entrepreneurial spirit. Unless WE change, we will all be sucked into the vicious cycle of blame, a vortex of refusing to accept responsibility for our own actions.
A woman in Lancaster Pennsylvania won $113,000 from a restaurant because she slipped and fell on a soft drink she threw at her boyfriend during an argument. An Oklahoma City woman won $1.3 million from Winnebago when her Winnebago veered off the road and crashed because the manufacturer failed to warn her that she should not leave the driver’s seat to go make a sandwich after she sets the vehicle on cruise control. Winnebago actually changed their instruction manual following this verdict. A kid won $12,000 and dental bills because he fell through the bathroom window of a nightclub he was trying to sneak into to avoid the $3.50 cover charge. A home buyer in California is suing their real estate agent because the value of their home went down. And the list of ridiculousness is endless.
It is facile to blame the lawyers. Judges allow suits, juries award damages, lawyers take cases, and WE think we can sue for anything, because big business or insurance companies should pay, and it doesn’t really cost the defendant anything. Litigation costs in U.S. in 2005 totaled $261 billion. And while that was “only” a 0.5 percent increase from the previous year, that $260 billion could be spent in so many more productive ways.
What the U.S. spends in litigation every year is 30 times the National Institute of Health budget, 27 times the cost of federal Homeland Security, 13 times the national budget for the Department of Education. The U.S. litigation costs are four times annually what is spent in Iraq. $261 billion represents 2 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States.
And all of us pay for the counterproductive feeding frenzy created by the lottery of outlandish awards and settlements. Medical liability increases health care costs by $124 billion, and it is estimated by some to add 3.4 million Americans annually to the rolls of uninsured. There are $50 billion in unnecessary tests conducted as hospitals and doctors try to protect every action and decision. Doctors are leaving medical practice because of the high costs of insurance. While 40 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits are determined to be groundless (Harvard School of Public Health May 10, 2006), the costs of defense, insurance, and claims drives doctors away. Women lack obstetrics care because OB-GYN doctors cannot afford the costs ” or perhaps the coverage is not even offered by insurance companies and it is easier in some states to move. The American Medical Association states that 21 states face medical liability crisis, and a huge lack of medical care.
Eighty-two percent of educators believe that we are now in a defensive education atmosphere as teachers fear lawsuits by parents and students. Some 4.4 million small businesses bear 50 percent of the liability insurance costs of $128 billion while generating less than 25 percent of the revenues. And we pay for these costs by increased prices for goods and services.
Yes, of course, we need the laws to protect the truly injured, and provide a mechanism of accountability for business. As a lawyer, I believe in our systems to give everyone their day in court. So this is not an appeal for tort reform.
What is required is common sense. We need to break the culture of entitlement and re-instill the pioneer spirit that made America strong. This demands a change in our attitudes, an acceptance of responsibility, a return to neighborly decency. Scott Swimm needs to have his boyhood restored. Accidents happen. Lawsuits are no accident.