Lawsuits in a Market Economy: The Evolution of Civil Litigation

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Some describe civil litigation as little more than a drag on the economy; Others hail it as the solution to most of the country’s problems. Stephen C. Yeazell argues that both positions are wrong. Deeply embedded in our political and economic systems, civil litigation is both a system for resolving disputes and a successful business model, a fact that both its opponents and its fans do their best to conceal.

Lawsuits in a Market Economy explains how contemporary civil litigation in the United States works and how it has changed over the past century. The book corrects common misconceptions—some of which have proved remarkably durable even in the face of contrary evidence—and explores how our constitutional structure, an evolving economy, and developments in procedural rules and litigation financing systems have moved us from expecting that lawsuits end in trial and judgments to expecting that they will end in settlements. Yeazell argues that today’s system has in some ways overcome—albeit inconsistently—disparities between the rich and poor in access to civil justice. Once upon a time, might regularly triumphed over right. That is slightly less likely today—even though we continue to witness enormous disparities in wealth and power.

The book concludes with an evaluation of recent changes and their possible consequences.
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About the author

Stephen Yeazell is the Dallas P. Price and David G. Price Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 4, 2018
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Pages
144
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ISBN
9780226546421
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Law / Civil Law
Law / General
Law / Litigation
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Prosecutes the civil litigation system and proposes practical reforms to increase access to the courts and reduce costs.

Civil litigation has come under fire in recent years. Some critics portray a system of dishonest lawyers and undeserving litigants who prevail too often, and are awarded too much money. Others criticize the civil justice system for being out of reach for many who have suffered real injury. But contrary to these perspectives and popular belief, the civil justice system in the United States is not out of control.

In Civil Justice Reconsidered, Steven Croley demonstrates that civil litigation is, for the most part, socially beneficial. An effective civil litigation system is accessible to parties who have suffered legal wrongs, and it is reliable in the sense that those with stronger claims tend to prevail over those with weaker claims. However, while most of the system’s failures are overstated, they are not wholly off base; civil litigation often imposes excessive costs that, among other unfortunate consequences, impede access to the courts, and Croley offers ways to reform civil litigation in the interest of justice for potential plaintiffs and defendants, and for the rule of law itself.

A better litigation system matters only because of what is at stake for real people, and Civil Justice Reconsidered speaks to the thought leaders, litigation reformers, members of the bar and bench, and policymakers who can answer the call for reforming civil litigation in the United States.
Prosecutes the civil litigation system and proposes practical reforms to increase access to the courts and reduce costs.

Civil litigation has come under fire in recent years. Some critics portray a system of dishonest lawyers and undeserving litigants who prevail too often, and are awarded too much money. Others criticize the civil justice system for being out of reach for many who have suffered real injury. But contrary to these perspectives and popular belief, the civil justice system in the United States is not out of control.

In Civil Justice Reconsidered, Steven Croley demonstrates that civil litigation is, for the most part, socially beneficial. An effective civil litigation system is accessible to parties who have suffered legal wrongs, and it is reliable in the sense that those with stronger claims tend to prevail over those with weaker claims. However, while most of the system’s failures are overstated, they are not wholly off base; civil litigation often imposes excessive costs that, among other unfortunate consequences, impede access to the courts, and Croley offers ways to reform civil litigation in the interest of justice for potential plaintiffs and defendants, and for the rule of law itself.

A better litigation system matters only because of what is at stake for real people, and Civil Justice Reconsidered speaks to the thought leaders, litigation reformers, members of the bar and bench, and policymakers who can answer the call for reforming civil litigation in the United States.

Class action lawsuits--allowing one or a few plaintiffs to represent many who seek redress--have long been controversial. The current controversy, centered on lawsuits for money damages, is characterized by sharp disagreement among stakeholders about the kinds of suits being filed, whether plaintiffs' claims are meritorious, and whether resolutions to class actions are fair or socially desirable. Ultimately, these concerns lead many to wonder, Are class actions worth their costs to society and to business? Do they do more harm than good? To describe the landscape of current damage class action litigation, elucidate problems, and identify solutions, the RAND Institute for Civil Justice conducted a study using qualitative and quantitative research methods. The researchers concluded that the controversy over damage class actions has proven intractable because it implicates deeply held but sharply contested ideological views among stakeholders. Nevertheless, many of the political antagonists agree that class action practices merit improvement. The authors argue that both practices and outcomes could be substantially improved if more judges would supervise class action litigation more actively and scrutinize proposed settlements and fee awards more carefully. Educating and empowering judges to take more responsibility for case outcomes--and ensuring that they have the resources to do so--can help the civil justice system achieve a better balance between the public goals of class actions and the private interests that drive them.
While the right to have one's day in court is a cherished feature of the American democratic system, alarms that the United States is hopelessly litigious and awash in frivolous claims have become so commonplace that they are now a fixture in the popular imagination. According to this view, litigation wastes precious resources, stifles innovation and productivity, and corrodes our social fabric and the national character. Calls for reform have sought, often successfully, to limit people's access to the court system, most often by imposing technical barriers to bringing suit. Alexandra Lahav's In Praise of Litigation provides a much needed corrective to this flawed perspective, reminding us of the irreplaceable role of litigation in a well-functioning democracy and debunking many of the myths that cloud our understanding of this role. For example, the vast majority of lawsuits in the United States are based on contract claims, the median value of lawsuits is on a downward trend, and, on a per capita basis, many fewer lawsuits are filed today than were filed in the 19th century. Exploring cases involving freedom of speech, foodborne illness, defective cars, business competition, and more, the book shows that despite its inevitable limitations, litigation empowers citizens to challenge the most powerful public and private interests and hold them accountable for their actions. Lawsuits change behavior, provide information to consumers and citizens, promote deliberation, and express society's views on equality and its most treasured values. In Praise of Litigation shows how our court system protects our liberties and enables civil society to flourish, and serves as a powerful reminder of why we need to protect people's ability to use it. The tort reform movement has had some real successes in limiting what can reach the courts, but there have been victims too. As Alexandra Lahav shows, it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary people to enforce their rights. In the grand scale of lawsuits, actually crazy or bogus lawsuits constitute a tiny minority; in fact, most anecdotes turn out to be misrepresentations of what actually happened. In In Praise of Litigation, Lahav argues that critics are blinded to the many benefits of lawsuits. The majority of lawsuits promote equality before the law, transparency, and accountability. Our ability to go to court is a sign of our strength as a society and enables us to both participate in and reinforce the rule of law. In addition, joining lawsuits gives citizens direct access to governmental officials-judges-who can hear their arguments about issues central to our democracy, including the proper extent of police power and the ability of all people to vote. It is at least arguable that lawsuits have helped spur major social changes in arenas like race relations and marriage rights, as well as made products safer and forced wrongdoers to answer for their conduct. In this defense, Lahav does not ignore the obvious drawbacks to litigiousness. It is expensive, stressful, and time consuming. Certainly, sensible reforms could make the system better. However, many of the proposals that have been adopted and are currently on the table seek only to solve problems that do not exist or to make it harder for citizens to defend their rights and to enforce the law. This is not the answer. In Praise of Litigation offers a level-headed and law-based assessment of the state of litigation in America as well as a number of practical steps that can be taken to ensure citizens have the right to defend themselves against wrongs while not odiously infringing on the rights of others.
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In this fifth edition of his bestselling classic, Jay Feinman provides an authoritative and up-to-date overview of the American legal system. In the years since the publication of the fourth edition, there have been many important developments on the legal front. The Supreme Court has issued important decisions on presidential powers, freedom of religion, and personal liberty. Police shootings and the rise of Black Lives Matter has impacted the court system too. The rise of arbitration at the expense of jury trials has affected the rights of consumers, and internet law remains in a state of constant change. This fully updated fifth edition of Law 101 accounts for all these developments and more, as Feinman once again provides a clear introduction to American law. The book covers all the main subjects taught in the first year of law school, and discusses every facet of the American legal tradition, including constitutional law, the litigation process, and criminal, property, and contracts law. To illustrate how the legal system works, Feinman draws from noteworthy, infamous, and even outrageous examples and cases. We learn about the case involving scalding coffee that cost McDonald's half a million dollars, the murder trial in Victorian London that gave us the legal definition of insanity, and the epochal decision of Marbury vs. Madison that gave the Supreme Court the power to declare state and federal law unconstitutional. A key to learning about the law is understanding legal vocabulary, and Feinman helps by clarifying terms like "due process" and "equal protection," as well as by drawing distinctions between terms like "murder" and "manslaughter." Above all, Feinman reveals to readers of all kinds that despite its complexities and quirks, the law can be understood by everyone. Perfect for students contemplating law school, journalists covering legislature, or even casual fans of "court-television" shows, Law 101 is a clear and accessible introduction to the American legal system.
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