The US media frequently report on precautionary measures taken in fear of tort liability claims. Swings and slides are vanishing from children’s playgrounds all over the country because cities are tormented by the idea of going bankrupt after being sued for negligence by the parents of a hurt child. Where doctors first saw patients in distress that urgently needed surgery, they now perceive possible plaintiffs in malpractice cases. Teachers dare not give their students a pat on the back anymore because getting sued for sexual harassment is a potential risk, and this serious threat to them – and their image- is certainly not a grief they need.
Americans are known to devote great focus on the possibility of “suing” someone, and are anxious to get sued simultaneously, in fact, they are believed to be the most litigious country in the world. This is based on the large sum of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is devoted to tort costs.1 The costs of US torts grows almost every year and has risen 8.7% in the time period 1951-2010.2 Hence the precautionary measures taken by legal entities to reduce liability in possible tort claims. The concepts ‘compensation culture’, ‘name-blame-claim’, ‘claim culture’ and ‘litigious society’ are commonly used to describe America’s legal (tort) landscape.
Although the words “I’ll see you in court” get used in a fit of rage or even in a jokingly manner all too often, the possible consequences of America’s litigious society ought not to be underestimated. Precautionary measures must be updated and amplified constantly because if not, the number of tort claims might just become unmanageable. This act of seeking legal redress in courthouses has swollen and not only over the last few years, for as early as 1977, “litigiousness as a secular religion” was already spoken off.3 Rudimentary parts of our judicial system –such as judges and litigants- might suffer from this impulse due to the increased workload, and burdens brought upon them.
Although the implications of the name-blame trend are very interesting, even more interesting are its reasons. Research suggests that the cause of the tort culture in America might have to do with media influence, as well as the spirit of the common law system. On the other hand however, folk-cultural factors and history might –partly- account for the phenomenon as well. One thing that is completely sure is that this topic requires more research to indefintely draw conclusions.