Limiting Liability

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Ever since I was young, I’ve had an irrational fear–well, at least I hope it’s irrational – of being sued. I think I’m so fixated on this because my parents both have very strong feelings about lawyers and lawsuits. Every since I was young I’ve heard about how we live in a “litigious society” and about how people will start a lawsuit over pretty much anything. I’m almost afraid to own a car because of how often it seems that people get sued over car crashes. I’m afraid to go into any careerlike medicine – where people can get sued easily. I’m certainly afraid to own a poolwe never had one growing up because, according to my mom, some neighbor’s kid would jump in and drown and we’d get sued.

I’m trying to get a grip on my worries here, and I’m hoping the experts can help. How at risk are we all, really, of being sued for no reason?

Your specific concerns are a bit of a mixed bag. Auto dealers don’t see cars as a root cause of lawsuits, and point out that drivers who lose lawsuits tend to be those who have used their car to do something irresponsible, like reckless driving or driving while intoxicated. It’s true that people in certain careers tend to be sued more often, and this does include doctors. In fact, this is your most valid point, because 61% of doctors will be sued by the age of 55. These lawsuits don’t often win money (and 93% of those that do are settled, not judged), so they’re arguably a good fit for your fear – but professions like medicine that face a lot of lawsuits have insurance systems to protect their workers. Finally, it’s true that installing a pool comes with certain legal obligations, those in the spa and pool industry say, but they’re not hard obligations to meet: a locking gate and other basic safety measures are the sorts of things you’ll need in order to be legally in the clear.

Of course, you didn’t ask if you were at risk of losing a lawsuit or being sued for a good reason: you asked if you’d be sued for no reason. You technically could be, of course: Americans have the right to sue whomever they want (though judges can simply throw out frivolous cases).

It’s true that a lot of people are sued in America. Over 300,000 people file personal injury lawsuits every year, and that’s just one type of lawsuit! With that said, though, there are a lot of people in America. Are we really filing lawsuits at an unusual rate? That’s a bit less clear: personal injury lawsuits are actually on the decline, and some argue that we’re actually not suing enough, citing figures that say only 1 in 10 injured parties actually seeks compensation.

Americans widely perceive their country as one where lawsuits run rampant, but some of the most iconic examples of so-called frivolous lawsuits weren’t so frivolous at all. For instance, the infamous “hot coffee” McDonald’s lawsuit involved extremely serious injuries and eight days in the hospital – not merely the uncomfortable warm lap that many Americans assumed it did.

There is, of course, a political debate about laws related to lawsuits. We won’t comment here about the merits of tort reform, but we hope we’ve provided some context for that debate and a bit of reassurance for you personally. Whether or not you feel our society is too litigious is entirely up to you, but as a matter of personal risk, you can rest assured that you are unlikely to be sued and even more unlikely to lose a lawsuit over your car, career, pool, or anything else, as long as you take commonsense precautions to avoid harming others.

“I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.” – Fred Allen

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