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Are We As a Society Getting Too Litigious?

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Hey, I'm a lawyer; I like a good lawsuit as much as the next attorney.  A colleague of mine, who is now a judge, once said that, "If people got along with each other more, I would be driving a truck."  To some extent, lawyers earn a living based on conflict.  However, I have started to ask myself whether we as a society have been going too far in this regard?  Is anything even an "accident" anymore where someone isn't at fault?  I'm beginning to doubt it.

In every issue of the ABA Journal there is a section called Obiter Dicta, in which the writer talks about humorous incidents in the law from around the country.  Well, the story in the January, 2011, issue, "Torts for Tots," was more chilling than funny.  We all know of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and its aggressive stance on illegal music downloads by teenagers, but that was just the beginning.  In 2007, in Pennsylvania, a man sued a 7-year-old boy for negligence after the youngster collided with him on the ski slopes in Colorado.  He sued for $75,000; he settled for $25,000!!  A 4-year-old girl, riding her bike (with training wheels no less!) on a New York City sidewalk struck an 87-year-old woman.  She was sued, and the judge ruled that she was old enough to be held liable!

Is there no such thing as an accident anymore?  Can't people just say "oops" without putting their insurance company on notice?  Perhaps not.  But what makes this particularly egregious is that it does not appear that we can tolerate accidents or mistakes even when they involve children.  Parents can be held responsible, but sometimes despite their best efforts, "stuff" happens, and they can't be everywhere.  In my career I have talked to hundreds of people who come in with what I call "hurt feelings" cases.  This is where there is no physical injury (like with the skiing or cycling youngsters) or economic loss (as with the RIAA), but simply embarassment or humiliation that the potential client has built up in his or her mind as being "severe emotional distress."  Their way of dealing with it, unfortunately, is to seek monetary damages (assuming those could even be quantified by a judge or a jury).  However, this does not change the fact that we are still just dealing with "hurt feelings," which are a part of life and should be dealt with outside the courtroom (and by that I mean dealing with it and moving on, not shooting out the  other guy's porch light).

There are many matters that do need to be resolved in court, no question.  However I also believe that we need to "suck it up" more and realize that sometimes bad things happen and they aren't necessarily anyone's fault.  Court dockets are clogged enough as it is, with cases taking years to get to trial, and these types of cases do not help the situation.  We need to become more forgiving of other people.    I think that if we do, we will all be better off in the long run.

UPDATE (2-16-11):  Ben Glass, a Virginia attorney, posted this great video on a woman's lawsuit against McDonald's out in California.  This just helps to make my point about how "sue-happy" we have become in this country.


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