Americans love playing the lottery. The bigger the jackpot, the more the number of people who want to play. Besides the State run lotteries, there is another jackpot we love to find – the tort lottery. Have you been injured? Have you suffered a loss? Do you feel you are the victim of discrimination based on age, sex, skin color, unfair labor practices? Are you stressed on your job? Are your medications causing you unwanted side effects? Did your doctor misdiagnose or not diagnose your ailment? Have you been exposed to potentially harmful substances? The number of real and perceived injuries for which you can file a lawsuit is limited only by the imagination of trial attorneys who spend millions and billions of dollars on TV, radio and print advertising soliciting your assistance in claiming a huge settlement from those you perceive have wronged you.
What’s the harm of filing a claim? If you can find an attorney to take your grievance (and with Law Schools turning out graduates in greater number than doctors, you shouldn’t have much trouble) you are likely promised that filing the suit will cost you nothing. Only if your attorney wins does she or he get to keep a sizable portion of your award. Who doesn’t want a chance at a free pull on the machine promising a big payout? As it turns out, not many. We have become the most litigious country in the world, with more attorneys per 100,000 people than anywhere on the planet. According to the American Bar Association, there is one attorney for every 300 people in our country.
The question is, who pays for all these big verdicts? You may be surprised to learn that it is you. Whenever you utilize our healthcare system, a significant cost of care is the insurance premiums paid by doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. What is even more surprising to people is how much potential litigation affects the cost of products you use on a regular basis. You drive a car? Auto makers frequently get sued when one of their cars is involved in an accident, especially if the person is high profile. A few years back, Ford motor company paid out a million dollars to a famous jockey who killed himself on the freeway driving one of their cars. They felt it was cheaper to settle than deal with potential bad press in a high profile case, though there was absolutely no evidence that the car and not the driver was at fault. Do you own a boat? The cost of all watercraft has increased significantly since someone successfully sued Chris Craft for lack of adequate safety features when a person driving one of their boats was killed, even though the boat operator was drinking alcohol at the time.
All but two manufactures of helmets used in playing football have gone out of business due to frequent lawsuits whenever a player is injured in a sport characterized by violent contact, with the remaining raising their prices to pay the accelerating premiums. If you like to ski, almost half the price of your lift ticket can be attributed to the cost of defending and paying for claims filed by those injured on the slopes. The long list goes on.
As for the multimillion dollar verdicts against police, welfare agencies, and other public institutions – where does the money come from and to whom does it go? It certainly doesn’t come out of the pockets of the policeman or public employee, even if they are individually guilty of wrongdoing; it comes out of the pocket of you, the taxpayer. And while the family of someone who unfairly lost a loved is entitled to some compensation, the plea of the plaintiff attorney for a multimillion dollar verdict “to send a message to change the system” may be necessary, wouldn’t the system be more likely to change if the largest part of that money was spent on paying for greater number of better trained public servants, rather than robbing the system in need of reform of funds needed to bring about change? Ah, but then attorneys couldn’t enjoy their large payouts, and we couldn’t win big on the tort system lottery.