The Myth of America's 'Lawsuit Crisis'
By Stephanie Mencimer via AlterNet
Last December, Newsweek featured a cover package by Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas that blared: "Lawsuit Hell: Doctors. Teachers. Coaches. Ministers. They all share a common fear: being sued on the job." Paired with a weeklong tie-in on NBC News and online chats on MSNBC.com, the article claimed that because "Americans will sue each other at the slightest provocation," the country is suffering from an "onslaught of litigation" that costs Americans $200 billion a year. The story was full of tales claiming to illustrate Americans' overarching sense of legal entitlement and desire to "win a jackpot from a system that allows sympathetic juries to award plaintiffs not just real damages but millions more for the impoossible-to-measure 'pain and suffering' and highly arbitrary 'punitive damages.'"
Not only were the particulars of the Newsweek story misleading. The essence of the story was wrong, too. Newsweek's "onslaught" of lawsuits simply hasn't happened. According to the National Center for State Courts, a research group funded by state courts, personal injury and other tort filings, when controlled for population growth, have declined nationally by 8 percent since the 1975, and have been falling steadily in real numbers since 1996. The numbers are even more dramatic in places with rapid population growth, like Texas, where the rate of tort filings fell 37 percent between 1990 and 2000. Even in liberal California, the rate of filings has plummeted 45 percent over the past decade. And those overly sympathetic juries Newsweek derides as so eager to dole out big bucks to injured victims?
In 2001, they voted against plaintiffs in 75 percent of all medical malpractice trials, according to the federal government's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). read on