How will we know when we get exactly the right amount of civil litigation?

Several groups publish numbers on how much lawsuits cost Americans each year.  They also emphasize the millions that lawyers earn.  These yardsticks imply that we have too many legal actions.

Lawyer associations and consumer groups on the other hand tend to emphasize the unquantifiable value of justice and its essential role in American democracy and self-governance.

Who has it right?  Blawgletter says neither.  Let the jury decide.

Cases go to verdict so seldom any more that juries play just a tiny role in separating wheat from chaff, lawsuit-wise, and in establishing the line between arguable and frivolous.

The Vioxx cases illustrate the utility of trial by jury.  Drug maker Merck decided to try, rather than quickly settle, claims of heart damage and other injuries from taking the pain killer.  Merck won more verdicts than it lost, driving the potential cost of litigation way down and saving it many billions of dollars.

Those who doubt the effectiveness of the civil justice system do much worse than castigating rich contingent fee lawyers when they cast doubt on the intelligence, the fairness, the reliability of juries.  We think that, as in the Vioxx cases, more juror input makes sensible outcomes more likely rather than less.

Civil litigation has become nasty, brutish, and long.  Having trials will do much to reverse the trend — and maybe to reopen the court house doors to the natural supporters of civil justice, small businesses and the middle class.

Barry Barnett