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21 Update on L. Related Educ. 18 (1997)
Is American Society Too Litigious - Yes

handle is hein.journals/ulred21 and id is 142 raw text is: Is American Society Too Litigious? Yes
Between 18 million and 30 million civil cases are considered each year
Waldemar (Wally) J. Pfiepsen Jr.
Update on Law-Related Education, 21.3, 1997, pp. 18, 20-21. @ 1997 American Bar Association.

he most significant statistic to be considered when
assessing whether our society is too litigious is the
number of civil cases in the courts each year. Every
year between 18 million and 30 million civil cases move
through the court system. Americans have to carefully
evaluate whether this litigious activity reflects the best
allocation of resources and energies.
So Many Lawyers
By some estimates, the United States has 70 percent of the
world's lawyers. Critics of that estimate say that when one
considers that nonlawyers in other countries do much of
what lawyers do here, the United States has no more than
half that, or 35 percent of the world's lawyers. Even if this
assertion is true, having more than one-third of all the
world's lawyers is a startling percentage in itself. Defend-
ers of the litigious system in the United States explain that
the historical emphasis on individual rights and liberties
distinguishes this nation from totalitarian regimes, in
which lawyers and lawsuits are not nearly so prevalent.
Americans are rightfully proud of their history, yet no one
can say that American lawyers are as busy as they are
because they are litigating fundamental rights and liber-
ties. Nor given the pervasive violence in America, is it
likely that access to civil courts actually discourages citi-
zens from taking the law into their own hands.

Wally Pflepsen is a litigation partner in the Washington,
D.C., office of Jorden Burt Berenson & Johnson LLP. He
frequently represents insurers and other corporate clients
in complex litigation matters. He is the 1997-98 chair of
the Corporate Counsel Committee of the ABA Tort and
Insurance Practice Section, a former chair of the commit-
tee's Litigation Management Subcommittee, and a mem-
ber of the ABA Section of Litigation.

So Many Lawsuits
People who contend that Americans are not suit-happy
like to argue that the costs of litigation are small in com-
parison to gross measures of the country's productivity.
They cite such studies as those that show that medical mal-
practice suits add less than 1 percent to our total health
care expenditures. This approach brings to mind an apt
comment by the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, who
when asked to favorably consider a small item in the
federal budget noted, A billion here, a billion there, and
pretty soon you're talking about real money. Given that
in 1995 total health care spending amounted to nearly one
trillion dollars (or over $3,600 per person), even 1 percent
represents a huge expenditure. If a young man or woman
becomes a medical doctor today, he or she has a good
chance of being sued: 40 percent of doctors and fully 70
percent of obstetricians are sued during their careers,
according to the American Medical Association. This rev-
elation seems at odds with most Americans' high opinion
of the medical care they enjoy. Moreover, doctors win 70
continued on page 20
See the Student Forum on page 47 for a technique to
help students debate the issue.


VOL. 21 NO. 3

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