It is the common belief that Americans are “lawsuit happy.” Lawyers and lawsuits bear the blame for many things in society. People won’t do certain things out of fear of “being sued.” The common perception that lawsuits are “out of control” regarding frequency is demonstrably false.
In a recent book “The Myth of the Litigious Society” author and law professor David M. Engel provides an eye-opening explanation of the perceived “tort crisis” in America. Citing his own studies, and those of other scholars, Engels shines the light on the truth about American lawsuits.
Citing Deborah Hensler and her colleagues at the Rand Corporation, Hensler reveals some surprising statistics about “lawsuit happy” Americans. Hensler tracked a large cohort of individuals who suffered non-fatal accidents not related to toxic exposures (eg. Car Accidents etc.). Of people injured, 81% did not even consider making a legal claim. 10% considered making a claim, but ended up doing nothing. 4% hired a lawyer. 2% filed a lawsuit.
You read that correctly. In the United States, people suffering injuries as a result of some 3rd party’s negligence have a 2% likelihood of filing a lawsuit. Using Professor Engel’s terminology, Americans are vastly more likely to “lump it” than they are to take legal action
Why then, are we bombarded with the “tort crisis” narrative? It’s important to understand where the narrative comes from and how it is broadcast. The big tobacco companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical industry have joined forces to create a benign sounding group called “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce.” This organization has created a series of sub-organizations with names such as “American Tort Reform Associantin (ATRA),” and locally “Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW). The Chamber even owns a pod of local “newspapers” which purport to report on local legal issues.
If you’ve read the “Madison County Record,” you’ve read what can most charitably be described as “fake news.” These newspapers and organizations all purvey the false narrative that lawsuits are holding back business and destroying industry. Their thesis is demonstrably false, yet people choose to believe it.
Recently our home county made “ATRA’s” list of “Hellholes.” This is surprising since juries in our county are more than twice as likely to give a plaintiff nothing in a lawsuit.
Statistics don’t lie. ATRA does.