Americans have been identified as being a fair person prone to lawsuits and attorneys with an insatiable appetite for lawsuits. In litigating Nation, Peter Charles Hoffer, among America’s most prominent legal historians, charts the history of lawsuits in America, noting the evolution from civil action to corporate litigation. A brief perusal will reveal many instances of how suits have been used to serve the will of the powerful against those whom they falsely represent. The lawsuits themselves, unfortunately, may well have a short term effect on society by increasing prices and reducing consumer access to products and services, but when the lawsuits are dismissed, the damage is done.

In a nation that prides itself on its standing above all other institutions, corporations are not immune from being subject to lawsuits, whether legitimate or not.

Corporate personnel, while not innocent of wrongdoing, can be careless in hiring personnel and in fiduciary conduct when business deals are made. As a result of these and other factors, lawsuits have been filed and verdicts obtained in personal injury lawsuits and other civil cases. Such lawsuits, in turn, allow the courts to compel executives to respond to claims made against them in a timely manner and to ensure that injured parties receive the settlements they deserve. Whether or not the meritorious nature of the lawsuits warrants recovery is beyond the scope of this article.

Historically, suits against corporations have been easier to obtain than personal injury lawsuits; however, as more companies choose to handle their own tort cases rather than have attorneys file them, plaintiffs’ rights have become more difficult to enforce.

Moreover, corporate management has often viewed lawsuits as a distraction and a liability which might bankrupt the corporation. This viewpoint has given rise to abuses such as the firing of U.S. attorneys and the use of secret arbitration in personal injury and tort cases.

With this backdrop, it is little wonder that many American businesses choose to avoid lawsuits and settle their disputes with insurance companies rather than face the costly prospect of a lengthy and potentially contentious litigation process.

This strategy also enables injured parties to quickly receive the compensation they seek without having to expend significant time and money in pursuing a frivolous lawsuit. To illustrate the perils of filing frivolous lawsuits, consider the following example. One person complains to the court that he was injured while playing a game of hot coffee; however, his doctor’s record shows that he was merely sitting in a stationary automobile, at a reasonable distance from the coffee machine. The district court dismissed the claim because “there is no evidence that [the defendant] intentionally caused harm,” a statement that is legally accurate, but one that understates the case’s reality-hot coffee is an exceptionally dangerous product.

Despite its popularity, McDonald’s enjoyed its share of unwarranted reputation damage after a German franchisee killed a customer in November 2021.

The restaurant settled with a local restaurant owner for $1.75 million and closed all its outlets in the immediate vicinity of the killing. Although the company later announced it would not pursue a suit against the franchisee, it has not stopped it from claiming that it was deeply sorry for what happened and has no plans to file a frivolous lawsuit in response to this incident. As such, a local Texas court recently rejected a lawsuit by the franchisee and ruled in favor of the restaurant.

There are many reasons that civil trials in America often result in victory for the plaintiffs but the relative frequency of such outcomes is clearly influenced by the nature of the dispute at hand. For example, when a manufacturer manufactures a product that acts as a potential health hazard to consumers, they may be less likely to face a class action lawsuit. If there are sufficient individual injury lawsuits that detail how and why the manufacturer refused to take safety precautions, more people will be inclined to recognize the defendant’s liability. A recent study by Duke University demonstrated that civil trials in the USA are almost entirely settled out of court.

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