Legal Interests As Special Interests

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 he asked the American people a simple question: Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago? A similar question can be asked today: Are people in Wisconsin more fearful of being sued today than they were 4 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago?  The overwhelming answer to this question would be “yes.”  The increased fear of being sued has little to do with desiring to get away with irresponsible or reckless conduct.

The fear of lawsuits adversely affects society in many different and subtle ways. For example, how many youth organizations have not been started due to the fear of liability? How many softball tournaments have not been run due to the fear of liability and/or the cost of insurance? How many coaches, teachers, schools, and childcare providers take all kinds of irrational precautions they never would have considered a generation ago? One could go on and on. It cannot be forgotten that the cost of liability often adversely affects those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Our legal system has become unbalanced in part due to the fact that so many legislators, politicians, etc. are lawyers. And where do these individuals often go when their political careers are placed on hold or over? Is it not often to well-connected law firms? The bottom line is an ever-increasing sensitivity to the concerns of the legal system at the displacement of the concerns of the public.

It would be interesting to see a study that addresses how much of the Wisconsin economy is drained today versus 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. due to businesses and organizations having to deal with the ever-expanding reach of the law and fear of litigation. Given this trend, it is important to realize that it is not inevitable, nor often desirable for the courts to approach issues confronting society from the perspective of the legal world.