We live in a lawsuit culture. The harm is not mainly crazy lawsuits, but fear of possible lawsuits. We have become defensive in daily dealings, and no longer feel free to act on our instincts. Hospitals, schools, the workplace—even playgrounds—have become zones of legal anxiety. We pause, we worry, we equivocate, and then we take steps to protect ourselves. It’s as if we have little lawyers on our shoulders, whispering caution at every turn.
Legal fear also makes it hard to govern. Individual citizens can throw a monkey wrench into a government decision by filing a lawsuit, inviting a lengthy, expensive process of judicial review. The government usually wins, but the effect is like sand in the gears, slowing government to a crawl.
How did we get here? Some say the right to sue is part of the American way. But we have become irresponsible in the way we exercise this “right.” Lawsuits are a use of coercive state power against another citizen. We wouldn’t tolerate a prosecutor seeking the death penalty for a misdemeanor, so why do we tolerate some jerk (in one notorious case) suing his dry cleaners for $54 million over a pair of pants?