How Civil Lawsuits Improve Your Life
Stories of ridiculous lawsuits abound in our society: A beer drinker sues a beer manufacturer for falsely promising beautiful women in their TV advertisements; crime victims sue violent video game manufacturers; a weak-stomached viewer sues a gross-out television show; and regular-Joe sues basketball star for, well, looking like him. Accounts of cases like these and more like them have created the impression in some circles that civil lawsuits are a bad thing for our society.
That sort of conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.
Imagine for a moment a world without civil lawsuits. Yes, we’d eliminate the frivolous lawsuits, but what about the legitimate ones? What if your neighbor’s sprinkler system consistently malfunctioned and flooded your basement, ruining priceless antiques? What if you’d told him and told him that you’d seen the geysers coming from his lawn and he’d refused to do anything about it? Wouldn’t it be fair for him to pay for the damage?
What if you were injured in an auto accident and the other driver refused to admit fault? How would you receive compensation for your injuries?
What would happen if your doctor left an instrument inside you after a surgery?
If civil lawsuits – all civil lawsuits – weren’t allowed, two things are likely to happen. First, companies and individuals would care less and less about personal responsibility and safe business practices. If a product injured or killed consumers, corporations would simply shrug, change the marketing, and move on. Unsafe drivers wouldn’t care as much about obtaining liability insurance because there would be less chance they would ever have to pay for the other car’s damages in an automobile accident. In response to this rampant decrease in personal responsibility, vigilantism would grow, as victims took civil justice into their own hands.
Civil lawsuits, as much as they are maligned, keep our society… civil. They provide an avenue where we can meet together in a calm and rational manner and allow the evidence to decide questions of fault and liability. Civil lawsuits protect the little guy from big corporations and from bigger guys because the courtroom is a space where any complaint can be aired out without violence. For an excellent recap of the many ways our civil lawsuits have made your cars safer, your environment cleaner, the care for seniors better, your trip to the hospital more likely to be a healthy one, and your kids’ toys more helpful rather than hurtful take a look at the report by the American Association for Justice entitled “Why we need a strong civil justice system.”
Does that mean that frivolous lawsuits have to be allowed, too? Well, sure: There’s no fair way to judge the merits of a lawsuit before it’s filed. Keep in mind, however, that most judges who preside over a frivolous lawsuit not only dismiss it early on, but also award attorney’s fees to the defendant. In that way, too, the civil justice system protects us from bullying.