How Did We Get to This Point?

Dec 1, 2007

U.S. Legal System Has Run Amok

By Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Sadly, America has adopted a culture where everyone is a victim, where suing is the first—not the last—resort, and where any misfortune in life must always be someone's fault.

We see some courts, juries, prosecutors, attorneys general, and regulators using the legal system not to enforce the law but to make the law. We see troubling attacks on the due process rights guaranteed to every American by ambitious prosecutors.

Medical liability is forcing doctors to abandon their practices and order more tests and treatments than necessary solely to avoid lawsuits. Securities litigation is driving foreign investors away in droves. And a relatively small group of class and mass action trial lawyers have devised a business model that lines their pockets while shortchanging their clients, clogging our courts, and perpetuating an endless stream of lawsuits. It's come to the point where the first order of business is not to innovate, take a risk, build a project, provide a service, or help the community but, rather, avoid getting sued.

It's easy to blame the lawyers for all this, but ordinary Americans also help perpetuate our litigious society. We must ask ourselves: Do we want to be a nation ruled by laws or lawyers? Do we want to reward innovation and risk or punish it? Do we want to encourage individual responsibility where the truly wronged can seek just compensation from the courts, or do we want to discourage it by allowing an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits by plaintiffs looking to win the "litigation lottery?" How we respond will help determine our nation's competitiveness.

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