False Alarm: How the media helps the insurance industry and the GOP promote the myth of America's "lawsuit crisis"

Washington Monthly
Friday, October 1, 2004

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.

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.

It's not as though Newsweek wasn't aware of these facts. On Friday, Dec. 5, a day before the story went to press, Taylor contacted the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) for a quote. ATLA relayed the request to the nonprofit Center for Justice and Democracy (CJD), whose director, Joanne Doroshow, emailed Taylor information that contradicted some of the assertions in the story, including the state court data and a critique of the TTP study.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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