In many areas of our lives, including entertainment, literature, and news reports, lawsuits have been cast in a dark light. America is known as the most litigious country in the world for a good reason. Americans are beginning to take notice. A Wall Street Journal article reported that 87 percent of voters polled agreed that there are “too many lawsuits filed in America.”

In this article, we cover topics including:

  • Are Civil Lawsuits Frivolous Lawsuits?
  • What is Public Policy?
  • How Do Civil Lawsuits Shape Public Policy?
  • Civil Litigation as an Important Role in Public Policy
  • Civil Litigation is Not the Enemy of the Judicial System

Are Civil Lawsuits Frivolous Lawsuits?

When most people hear the term “frivolous lawsuit,” they naturally assume a civil lawsuit between two or more parties to resolve a dispute. While many people believe that civil lawsuits are on the rise, the number of civil lawsuits being filed has sharply declined. In 1993, 10 out of 1,000 people filed a civil lawsuit. By 2015 the number of people filing civil lawsuits dropped to under two people per 1,000 people.

If civil lawsuits are decreasing at a standard rate, why do so many Americans believe there are too many civic lawsuits filed each year? A major reason is that large corporations and special interest groups such as the pharmaceutical industry, oil companies, and insurance companies pay millions of dollars each year to convince Americans that our court systems are overloaded with frivolous lawsuits.

However, the judicial system is an extremely important element used to shape public policy. Throughout the years, the judicial system, which is designed to give every individual a fair chance, has had a significant positive influence over the formulation of public policy.

What is Public Policy?

Merriam-Webster defines public policy as “government policies that affect the whole population.”

If you research public policy, you may find at least a dozen if not two dozen definitions for public policy. For our purposes, we are limiting the definition of public policy to ­­the legal field as it relates to establishing policies that are in the best interests of and meets the needs of the population as a whole.

Legal public policy refers to the laws enacted by Congress and the cases decided by judges, which are used when determining if someone committed a crime. Likewise, public policy may be applied to civil litigation. Important decisions have been made, in part, to protect public policy through civil litigation, especially consumer litigation.

Policies related to marriage equality, voter’s rights, women’s reproductive rights, health care, and poverty have been criticized by some and praised by others. In some cases, as we evolved and obtained additional information and facts about a subject, public opinions begin to shift requiring changes in our laws. In some cases, public policy is changed through decisions made in court cases, and then Congress catches up with modifications of laws that support the current public policies.

Some of the most heated and debated areas of public policy that are still being debated and modified include:

  • The Death Penalty
  • Gun Control
  • Civil Rights and Segregation
  • Abortion Rights
  • Health Insurance issues such as related to preconditions and denial of valid claims for medical care
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • Education (integrated schools and access to public education by each child)
  • Drug Policies
  • Immigration
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (recalls of dangerous toys and other household items that can cause harm)
  • Improved Automobile Safety through Product Liability Lawsuits
  • Environmental Issues to hold companies accountable for their actions as in the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill

In some cases, special interest groups lobby for changes in public policy successfully. For instance, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) was instrumental in convincing Congress to raise the legal drinking age from 18 years of age to 21 years of age. However, the majority of the changes in public policy begin with a civil lawsuit.

Civil lawsuits are an extremely important element we need to establish or change public policy to keep our communities, families, legal rights, and liberties safe from infringement. When a system is crucial in protecting our basic rights and freedoms, it cannot be considered frivolous because it is essential.

How Do Civil Lawsuits Shape Public Policy?

To understand how civil lawsuits help shape public policy in the United States, we need to understand how policy is made.

Public policy begins with laws written by Congress and the rights granted to each citizen under the U.S. Constitution. However, the laws in the U.S. Constitution and the laws written by Congress are often vague and open to different interpretations. Therefore, the responsibility interpreting laws falls upon the courts, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court under the judicial review doctrine.

The Court decided in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) that the Court had the power to examine the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments. If the laws violated the Constitution, the Court could invalidate and cancel the laws.

Some of the famous U.S. Supreme Court Cases that shape the public policy in the United States for decades include:

  • Brown v. The Board of Education (Segregation Rights)
  • Roe v. Wade (Right to Choose Laws)
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (Right to Counsel)
  • Lau v. Nichols (The Court interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as requiring schools to provide immigrant students special instruction in English. This case became the basis for teaching Spanish in public schools.)
  • Miranda v. Arizona (Rights Against Self-Incrimination)
  • Loving v. Virginia (Prohibition against interracial marriage was unconstitutional)

When a civil lawsuit is filed, it may work its way up through the court system to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the justices only hear specific cases; therefore, not all civil cases appealed at the lower level make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Furthermore, the court cannot create cases it will hear. Therefore, without civil litigation in the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court would be unable to decide important decisions related to public policy.

Civil Litigation as an Important Role in Public Policy

Civil litigation shapes public policy and effectuates change in a number of ways, but not every lawsuit filed will formulate or shape public policy. However, civil litigation does play an extremely important role in shaping policy and furthering American Democracy in five important ways.

  • A Day in Court — Regardless of a person’s situation, by filing a lawsuit, that person can have his day in court. He has the opportunity to have his claims recognized and acknowledged by a judge.
  • Promotes Reasoned Arguments Related to Legal Questions — A lawsuit allows parties within the case and outside of the case to have a debate about the legal questions being addressed by the lawsuit.
  • Lawsuit Promotes Transparency — Evidence and proof must be presented in a courtroom. By placing the evidence into the court record, a lawsuit promotes transparency on legal questions that are being debated. Lawsuits can also help bring light to the allegations so that other parties may come forward with additional information or evidence.
  • Lawsuits Can Help in the Enforcement of the Law — Trials allow wrongdoers to answer for their conduct, but they also allow evidence and information to be presented that could be used by other law enforcement agencies.
  • Citizens Become A Part of the Process — Through trials, citizens become a part of the process of adjudicating a case, and maybe helping to shape public policy in the future. When serving on a jury, a citizen can begin to understand the importance of lawsuits to protect legal rights and encourage change where change is required.

Civil Litigation is Not the Enemy of the Judicial System

Even though large corporations who do not want to defend lawsuits and class action suits want you to believe that all civil lawsuits are frivolous and unnecessary, that is not the case. Lawsuits allow the average person to have a voice and to ensure that voice is heard. By litigating matters, we are able to identify issues that may need further scrutiny and work.

We find flaws in the court system and the judicial system that may need to be addressed. Without lawsuits, we would never go through the process that brings enlightenment of important issues in addition to resolving the dispute between the parties.

The Lawyers of The Thompson Law Office Believe in Your Right to File a Lawsuit

If you have been wronged, you deserve to have your voice heard in court. Our judicial system gives you the vehicle for having your voice heard — filing a civil lawsuit.

We encourage you to contact our office to speak with one of our experienced injury lawyers. Call 1-650-513-6111 to speak with an attorney to discuss the details of your case.