Average Joes and Small-Business Targeted by Frivolous Lawsuits

“You have no idea how many people out there just want a quick buck for nothing. And how successful they are at it…”

I was getting brunch with my friend Steve, who was in the middle of setting up his own law practice in South Florida. As he spoke, he stared into his half-empty coffee mug, mouth set in a grim line flatter than I’d seen in the half-decade of knowing him. Shadows staged coups under his eyes.

I expected the stress, the long hours, the competition that’s a staple of the profession to leave their mark on him. He was starting his own firm in a high-pressure field, after all.

But I didn’t expect to see this level of disenchantment so soon.

I should’ve known, though. See, the 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey places Florida in the bottom five states when ranking our country’s liability systems for fairness and reasonableness.

survey graphic

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform has compiled this report for the last 15 years. As you can see, it’s good news for South Dakota, which comes in first out of 50 states when ranked for fairness. It’s less good news for Florida, which places 46th.

And I can’t say the Sunshine State has been improving. In 2015, it was No. 44. In 2012, it was at 41. It’s an ever slippery slope.

This news isn’t terribly surprising if you read the headlines listing all the frivolous lawsuits that make it through the court system.

Did you hear about the prisoner who sued the state of Florida for serving him soy, calling it cruel and unusual punishment? Or the one about the family that, after being accused of shoplifting in one of Florida’s theme parks, sued the park because their children saw a character out of costume?

Maybe you heard about the woman who sued Universal Orlando claiming she suffered psychological trauma after voluntarily going through the House of Horrors attraction. (Luckily, this case was dismissed.)

We seem trapped in a lawsuit culture that relies on lawyer-powered litigation, raising expenses for businesses and customers. Think about it: About 15 million lawsuits were filed in America in 2016. That’s one new lawsuit every two seconds.

That tells me American courts are battling a torrent of claims, with many simply draining the economy and diverting our judicial resources.

In fact, in September 2016, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America found that the annual cost to the U.S. economy for civil lawsuits was a whopping $239 billion.

And the estimated annual cost to each citizen for these suits was $812.

After taking that into consideration, I think it’s fair to say that America is simply an overly litigious culture. So, imagine working as a lawyer within a state that seemingly encourages people to take advantage of the justice system.

I feel for my friend Steve.

But more than that, I feel for the average Joes and small-business owners who get targeted by frivolous lawsuits. I regret that there are people who have worked hard at accumulating their retirements over the years, just to see them drained away.

That’s why it’s prudent to be more aware of this predatory culture — to protect ourselves. As people who are committed to growing and protecting our wealth, it’s critical for us to understand the potential issues here.

People like to sue. It’s as simple as that. And if you’re building up a sizeable store of wealth, you’re vulnerable.

So I urge you to start protecting yourself. Research how to lawyer-proof your life, and do it soon.

Catch you next week.

Regards,

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Managing Editor, Banyan Hill Publishing

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