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Britain Takes on the Litigation-Industrial Complex

Laws and regulations sometimes seem to accumulate like the knick-knacks in your grandparents’ attic. Years out, it is hard to remember why or when any of them were purchased. That’s the case in the UK as well as here, but on the other side of the pond, David Cameron has promised to do something about it. The FT reports:

David Cameron has promised to contain the “health and safety monster” that he claims is a threat to small companies, including setting out plans to cap legal fees in disputes involving businesses.

[…]Mr Cameron said the government would cap lawyers’ fees in cases of personal injury claims of up to £25,000 to try to give companies some certainty about their legal bills in litigation.

The prime minister said that many companies settled out of court in what they regarded to be speculative claims because of fears of high legal fees, even if they were convinced they would win.

The problem with the tort behemoth in Britain and America is that many of the laws were written during bygone eras and have outlasted their original purpose. There was a time when regulators were remiss at protecting workers who might lose their hands in textile machines, but today having an employee slip on a rug might be enough to get a company sued.

Worse, litigation has undergone what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called “professionalization”: lawyers realized people weren’t bringing enough problems to them so they decided to go out and find them. Dial 1-800-LAWYER. For awhile, it was easier for businesses just to pay out nuisance settlements but this has encouraged the litigation industry to bring more complaints.

Cameron is right that this kind of burden is crippling for small business especially.  The litigation industry has to be pruned back, hard, to get the economic growth we need. The UK plan to counter the litigation industrial complex is long overdue, but it’s better late than never. In America, we’re still waiting.

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  • Tom Holsinger


    Employers in America do not pay attorney fees to employees injured on the job, and only a tiny proportion of employee vs. employer work-related injuries enter the civil litigation system as tort actions. This because of the exclusive jurisdiction of Workers Compensation systems over work-related injuries. An employer has to really screw up to get a work-related injury into the civil litigation system (such as by shooting an employee during an argument).

    Gender/racial discrimination and harassment on the job are not subject to Workers Compensation, and employers there do risk paying statutory attorney fees. Likewise civil tort lawsuits by injured employees against the manufacturers of machines which injure them are not subject to Workers Compensation.

    I agree with your sentiment, but please keep the legal details straight. Work-related injuries are not an issue here for employers. Almost all civil tort litigation involving work injuries is against non-employer defendants, and most of that is against the manufacturers and sellers of workplace machinery.

  • Toni

    Hear, hear! Three cheers for this marvelous, cogent piece!

    Problem is, we’ll be waiting as long as the trial lawyers have the Democratic Party in their pocket, which they do because of all the campaign funds they put in Democrats’ pockets.

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