Letter to the Editor: Debunking the myth of frivolous lawsuits

Washington Times
Friday, May 25, 2001

The May 22 Commentary column by Joseph Perkins, "Picking up the tab for frivolous lawsuits," feeds into a false and very dangerous perception that our legal system is overflowing with frivolous and costly lawsuits by individuals a theory advanced by corporate "tort reform" proponents but contradicted by all reliable research.

Contrary to popular rhetoric, only 2 percent of injured Americans file lawsuits, according to the corporate-funded Rand Institute for Civil Justice. Moreover, these kinds of personal injury lawsuits are a tiny percentage of civil case filings in this country, and they have dropped 16 percent since 1996, according to the National Center for State Courts, which tracks this information.

Moreover, according to a report by the Consumer Federation of America, total product liability verdicts and settlements nationwide for manufacturers are about $4 billion a year. By comparison, Americans spend about twice that much about $8 billion on dog and cat food. In fact, actual liability costs for businesses are minuscule and dropping. Ernst & Young and the Risk and Insurance Management Society´s annual survey of business liability costs (including all claims and payouts, property damage, workers´ compensation and all other liability costs), recently found such costs to be the lowest in a decade only $5.20 for every $1,000 in revenue in 1999.

Our legal system protects us all from injury and disease, whether or not we ever go to court. This is because the prospect of tort liability deters manufacturers, builders, chemical companies, hospitals and other potential wrongdoers from repeating their negligent behavior and provides them with an economic incentive to make their practices safer. Mr. Perkins´ proposed "solutions" to weaken the civil justice system greatly favor corporate wrongdoers over injured consumers and would be devastating for American families.

(NOTE: The author of the letter is CJ&D Executive Director Joanne Doroshow.)

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