Infographic: America, The Lawsuit-Happy Nation

EconMatters's picture

By EconMatters

According to the latest BLS national wage estimate through May 2010, the mean annual salary for lawyers was around  $129,440, which partly accounts for the fact that the U.S. has one of the highest number of lawyers per capita in the world.

Based on data from the American Bar Association, there are over 1.2 million lawyers in the United States.  That's one attorney for every 254 Americans, which also makes some of the stunning statistics (and what a waste of resources) illustrated in the infographic below somewhat "logical":

  • 15 million lawsuits will be filed in 2011 across the U.S. 
  • A new lawsuit every 2 seconds  
  • One lawsuit for every 12 adults
  • 21 U.S. states are facing a medical liability crisis
  • $248.1 billion = the cost to the U.S. tort system (personal injury) in 2009, or $808 per person
  • The cost per capita of tort related lawsuits has increased 800% between 1950 to 2009 

The Great Recession may have diminished the ability of lawyers to command a higher salary, but probably at the same time also has increased the likelihood of frivolous litigation, as the odds are good for some kind of settlement to avoid an even more costly trial, particularly when insurance companies are involved.


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August 27, 2011

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Nylawyer's picture

Demand is met by increase in supply, which definitely explains the boom in number of lawyers, but their earnings does show indeed that we are a nation of lawsuit happy people, which could also go to show that we have faith in the judicial system.

Harold -

chinawholesaler's picture

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hivekiller's picture

If you really want heartburn, go to The entire judicial system is pretty corrupt. Here and there you find an honest judge. But at the federal level they are all a bunch of losers. They are there to protect the government and those who control the government. Even when some corporation has to pay out a big settlement, it ends up being tagged on to the price of the item(s) sold by the corporation. I did some research in to the tobacco settlement under Clinton. It was a way for the tobacco companies to create a monopoly since any new companies entering the market had to pay into the multibillion settlement. The lawyers earned hundreds of millions in fees. And who got the bill? Smokers.

Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

This is just terrible, the waste is unbelievable ... wait a second, here's a nice commercial for a prescription medication on TV, that guy looks happy, no it's not Viagra, I don't even know what it's for although the downside of suicidal thoughts does not sound good, but hey this guy really does look happy, oh what the hell I'm going to call my Doctor and ask him to give me a prescription, if it doesn't work I'll just sue the shit out of him, he drives a nicer car than I do anyway ...

Argos's picture

Perhaps a different tactic should be used.  Ban insurance companies.

rossbcan's picture

Ban insurance companies...


Insurance companies perform the function of socializing (spreading out) the costs of crime, which the legal "profession" and courts absolutely cannot solve without putting themselves out of a job. Problem solvers in a monopoly position realized ages ago that solved problems equals their unemployment. Far better to coddle criminals, nurture the problems and actually create new problems.

Exactly how "tolerant" would you be of the burgler who robbed you, without insurance? Pitchforks and torches?

rossbcan's picture

The number and costs (persoanl and socialized) of lawyers is inversely proportional to adherence of the courts to the "rule of law":


Criminal Law: Don't cause harm, OR ELSE

Civil Law: Keep your promises, OR ELSE

Administrative (decree. "rule of man") law: Obey, OR ELSE

Justice Defined: We are all free to profit or suffer and learn (adapt to excellence) by facing the consequences of our OWN choices. Injustice is to be forced to suffer the consequences of choices of unaccountable (irresponsible) others..

"The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern. The law of liberty tends to abolish the reign of race over race, of faith over faith, of class over class." ~ Lord Acton

williambanzai7's picture

I know where there were absolutely zero lawyers...The former Soviet Union

kubrick007's picture

they don't even need to cap patient rewards. just cap malpractice attorney's fees to $50k per case and you will get about $50 billion back.

Citxmech's picture

Show me one example where medical malpractice tort reform was passed and insurance costs in that jurisdiction went down.

MachoMan's picture

What's worse is that you get many states that pass caps on punitive damage awards without even contemplating limiting insurance premiums...  If you're going to fuck over the public and completly ignore rudimentary public policy on requiring the utmost diligence of our medical professionals (and everyone else for that matter), then why not set caps on insurance premiums in a highly regulated field?  It's this kind of thing that clearly shows exactly what "tort reform" measures are...  handouts to the insurance companies.

I'll give it to them...  it's a plausible ploy on the surface...  but, it doesn't take much digging to figure out how much of a joke it is...  and the significant matters we give up to do so.

[aside from the fact that the supreme court of the united states has set punitive damage caps for purposes of due process, which binds all states]

Spaceman Spiff's picture

The ABA really screwed the profession.   Unbridled expansion due to the relative cheap nature of starting a law school and there are no caps on students.    The curriculam of schools does not match what students meet in the field.   The massive memory test called the bar exam which is supposed to be state specific devotes half of the exam to a 'generalized form of law' in the multistate bar exam that is a useless exercise in choosing the more right answer and testing antiquated areas of law.   The more requirements and tests they place in the field the more crap they produce in the field.  Have malpractice accusations gone down as passage rates decreased?  

Cap the number of students admitted each year.    Scale down the massive amount of laws in this country so the regular joe could navigate basic legal tasks himself.  Get rid of /make more meaninful the useless, arbitrary, subjective licensing tests (test each subject in more detail over the course of many exams that can be passed individually) and instill rigorous apprentichships for two-three years after law school  (ala med school).       


JD underground.   Has a bit of a jaded nature on the profession.   Reminds me of a different form of zero hedge

MachoMan's picture

Don't make any caps or anything remotely similar to a command economy.  Simply put, reduce the complexity of our bureaucracy and the rest will fall in place (and academia will collapse, but that's inevitable).  Many of us, speaking for both attorneys and accountants, would like nothing more than to be out of a job because the system works perfectly...  if so, I'll find something else to do... 

As far as the BAR goes (the CPA is vastly harder), there is no reason why there should be redundancy with school and the exam...  if you can pass the BAR, THEN THERE IS NO REASON WHATSOEVER WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE HAD TO WASTE 3 YEARS IN SCHOOL.  This was the way it was before the stranglehold of academia bloat scourged the land...  the only reason the rules exist is to support an overweight education system... 

PS, schools have a printing press too (we only get mad at ben for devaluation of paper...)

Bastiat's picture

What litigation problem?

Chicago • Raised in a $1.5 million Barrington Hills, Ill., home by their attorney father, two grown children have spent the last two years pursuing a unique lawsuit against their mom for "bad mothering" that alleges damages caused when she failed to buy toys for one and sent another a birthday card he didn’t like.

Wannabee's picture

Boy, this post sure struck a nerve. Just using a visual of how many 'words' in a post, bet I can spot the lawyers. I'm surprised they took the bait.

Perhaps there is something to the premise of the article after all.

whaletail's picture

And if you disagree with Nouriel because you hold PM's then Nouriel's arguments have validity. Glass houses and whatnot. (And I gave you the green arrow for the comment on wordy comments)

Wannabee's picture

Plenty of glass in our house, floor to ceiling. My profession is engineering, my wifes profession is medical. Show me a profession that doesn't have prima donnas spoiling the barrel.

MayIMommaDogFace2theBananaPatch's picture

There ought to be a law.  </sarc>

LawsofPhysics's picture

Like so many other elements of our economy, this is NOT SUSTAINABLE.  As more and more people drop "off the radar", the only thing that will matter is possession.  Rather than dole out the haircuts to the world's elite bond holders and start over, we get a slow decline.  No surprise that lawsuits are on the rise as everyone who thinks they are getting a raw deal and thinks that they are "wealthy" fights to keep their imaginery wealth as the system slowly dies.  I know two attorneys and employ one for the business.  These guys spend more time on vacation preparing their cases (which are then passed on to their younger "wanna-be-partners" to actually be prosecuted or defended).

Come on guys, what else would you expect in a country where fraud is the status quo and people are waking up to this fact?  Hundreds of people waking up and saying to themselves, "What?  I was robbed?  Call my attorney!"

Vendetta's picture

There must be a pill available for those numbers, ask your doctor if it is right for you.  I simply don't believe much that comes out of the BLS.  I think we are all fairly convinced that economic numbers are artificially skewed for political and 'confidence' purposes.  Why would anyone think that other numbers are not afflicted (pun intended) with the same corruption?  We do know how the pharmaceutical industry has its massive influence ($).  Logic dictates viewing these 'reports' with a high level of skepticism

Problem Is's picture

"$248.1 billion = the cost to the U.S. tort system (personal injury) in 2009, or $808 per person."


"The cost per capita of tort related lawsuits has increased 800% between 1950 to 2009."

I have a question, EconMatters:
Is that in nominal dollars or inflation adjusted real dollars??

Because the funny thing is... $100 in 1950 dollars is $890 in 2009 dollars when adjusted for inflation.

"The cost per capita of tort related lawsuits has increased 800% between 1950 to 2009"

The rate of inflation between 1950 and 2009 was 790.2%.

So Is There A REAL Increase in Tort Dollars? Or just Bernanke Buck Devaluation?
Furthermore $248.1 billion in 2009 dollars would be $27.87 billion in 1950 dollars. Why don't you give me the 1950 cost to the U.S. tort system in nominal dollars as would be published by (?) Census Bureau or other statistical agency.

I Personally Agree With EconMatters Premise
In fact I cite the fact that the US DOES have the highest number of lawyers per capita in the world... I infer that is why we have so many idiot politicians who are lawyers...

But let us get the facts straight and not have any fallacious or misleading numbers cited to try and bolster our point...

Doctor sahab's picture

Did ya miss the "even after adjusting for inflation..." text with the graph?

Problem Is's picture

Yeah... Tyler's right column covers half of the graphic on my laptop...

Thanks for enlightening me...

Also, that isn't a graph... It is sort of a cartoon collage...

I tend to focus on and look for concise text rather than pictures unless it is a statistical graph...

MachoMan's picture

Literally, the abundance of attorneys and lawsuits is a direct result of: (a) actually recognizing property rights; and (b) perfectly correlated to the amount of business conducted/size of the economy.  This is about the only analysis you need to make...

Further, tort reform already swept the nation...  30 years ago...  the insurance industry has run a massive propaganda campaign regarding the risks of med mal.  The truth is that insurance companies lost their asses in the dotcom bust, among others, and needed convenient scapegoats to justify higher premiums.  The tort campaign ensued.  About the only meaningful change to tort reform in 30 years has been hard caps on punitive damages...  which is patently unconstitutional in many states...  for obvious reasons.

The truth of med mal cases is that they're either a gut lock or impossible to win...  there is no in between.  If it's a gut lock, the  insurance company tries to lowball the shit out of you or, in the case of large damages, simply ponies up the policy limits and goes away...  if it's not a gut lock, you take whatever bone they'll throw and go on.  The plaintiff's burden of proof is...  simply insurmountable in any "close" call. 

Last, large jury awards are simply another manifestation of our inherent inflation/currency devaluation AND wealth gap.  As the costs of remedial measures increase, so too do compensatory damages...  likewise, as the wealth gap increases and juries are looked upon to punish wrongdoers (tort feasors or the like), then the amount needed to actually sting increases accordingly...

This is just basic stuff guys...  the reason we have causes of action for injuring the bodies of others is pretty self explanatory (incentive to keep your shit straight)...  doctors apparently want to go to town on the government pussy all day long without putting a ring on it...  well, can't eat your cake and have it too.

kubrick007's picture

cap attorneys fees to $50k per case. 

MachoMan's picture

So who was it you were thinking was going to front the costs of litigation for the client?  $50k can't buy dick...  you can burn that on a single piddly ass expert...  and quickly.  Cap attorneys fees and you'll cap what cases are ever heard.

PS, the rules of professional conduct set ranges for permissible contingency fees as a % of award...  (in other words, centuries of the practice of law have probably contemplated each and every grievance you may have and made change/remedy accordingly).

Citxmech's picture

I bet you there's a job at BP or Exxon as a lobbyist for you.

chunga's picture

I got struck by lightning at work. The dock I was standing on was blown up. The carrier (AIG) actually asserted, after a year of treatment, that I didn't get struck by lightning after all. How the hell does one fake that? I must have done a good job because two witnesses went into shock and a couple of others went deaf.

Their OWN Dr. told me to hire a lawyer and told AIG's case manager to get fucked.

ReeferMac's picture

So we've got a glut of lawyers and politicians in this country, and fewer and fewer people that actually "work" for a living...

What could possibly go wrong?

rossbcan's picture

"What could possibly go wrong?"


Nothing. Reality ALWAYS prevails. In this case, the economy is highly skewed to favor the unproductive at the expense of the productive who have absolutely zero reason to be so. The consequences are inevitable, simply proven bt the grim reaper of "Mathematics Of Rule":

and, Shakesphere was correct regarding lawyers.

gwar5's picture

Thank you for writing this article and highlighting the massive tort system and litiginous society we live in. I  think the costs to our society from the litiginous society are much higher than $248 billion per year when one takes into account such things as mandatory insurance for some homeowners and business owners, higher insurance rates, exuberant costs to prevent lawsuits, and all the other indirect costs that result from the "lotto" lawsuits mentality. It's extortion and a drain on society.






Citxmech's picture

Until you get yourself into a jam - at which point you'll direct your attorney to go for blood.

alien-IQ's picture those useless lawsuits filed against the good doctor that amputated the wrong leg of a man. I mean seriously...what the fuck did he want? a new leg? fuck him. he should just be happy he has one leg left...granted it the one that was supposed to be amputated but hey...if "god" selected him to have the wrong leg chopped off and be left with the shitty one, then it's the will of god and we all know that you don't take god to court. (historically, he's been a no-show defendant so why bother?)

but of course...medical errors are really rare. they only kill around 100,000 people per year in America.

Good thing Texas managed to kill all these frivolous law suits. Now when a Texas doctor kills don't get dick. And that is justice...corporate style.

whaletail's picture

A nicely pacified sheep. 

LetThemEatRand's picture

It's amazing how well Karl Rove makes otherwise intelligent people beg for their own enslavement to corporate interests.

alien-IQ's picture

It's really quite easy to do once you realize that those who know least obey best.

Rainman's picture

Speaking of parasites, we commoners also have over 20 million gubmint employees to support. That means there is one racker and stacker for every 15 Mericans.

chunga's picture

With all the flaunting of the law going on it's a surprise there aren't more lawsuits.

I'm not talking about people on their tenth "slip and fall"...

I'm talking about TBTF. Sue the living shit out of them. Every last one of them.

Rogue Foreclosure Mill Harmon Law at it again.

MachoMan's picture

Chunga, I think a lot of these lawsuits are underway...  the reason they don't get more media attention is...  to be expected.  And, as you're aware, the foreclosure suits from the homeowner's perspective are one at a time, duking it out in the trenches...  practically speaking, the big cases are all on the securities side...  whether they be criminal or civil...  and I believe there are many of these pending.

chunga's picture

You got it. I see a lot from the "pushback" crowd with deep enough pockets to get it done. I post these links to Hamlet to show the little guy at the bottom of the Ponzi food chain that it IS possible to fight back. Some might say I am "blog-pimping" but that is not the case. Advertising is strictly forbidden at The Hamlet and there is no "pay-per-click". We survive on ten and twenty dollar donations.

alien-IQ's picture

Is this post sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce?

Ok...fine. Now take a look at this eyeopening Documentary about "Tort reform" and "Frivolous Lawsuits"...

And while we're at about some mention of Frivolous prosecutions? Or is that of no importance?

I really fail to see the point of this article other than to show a bunch of one sided statistics that have no meaning when presented without context.

In conclusion, I find this article to be...Frivolous.

LetThemEatRand's picture

For anyone interested in facts rather than corporate/AMA propaganda.


RockyRacoon's picture

Is there any truly objective reporting any more?



Public Citizen is a 150,000 member non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.
representing consumer interests through lobbying, litigation, research and public education.

LetThemEatRand's picture

What a completely fact-free article.  The "statistics" used are no doubt provided by the AMA and insurance lobby.  Yes, there are frivolous lawsuits, many of which involve businesses suing each other, patent litigation, family law disputes, and other cases that get counted in these statistics without mentioning those little details.  In China, they have no tort system.  How's that working out for the people there?  And of course our court system in the U.S. already has a mechanism for dealing with frivolous lawsuits, so the idea that we need some big "reform" to do that is just false.  Tort reform works great for the big business owners who will ensure they continue to have the ability to sue consumers and each other at will, but will screw the little guy who seeks compensation when big business screws him.  Shall we take away the right to sue the banksters for fraud?  That's where it would go.  Think about it.  This is blatant anti-consumer propaganda disguised as "plain talk."  I'll bet Karl Rove had a hand in it.

No OB Wan Kenobe's picture

As my moniker implies I am not doing OB any more as of 2 months ago. Part of the reason is the stress of the profession. The public expects perfection and any mishap, unfortunate outcome, compromised baby, congenital anomaly etc is the fault of someone, usually the obstetrician. In 35 years of practice I have been sued only once-- for a baby that had a stroke in the newborn nursery unrelated to the care durng the pregnancy, during labor or delivery. No matter--the lawyer took the case because he knew the jury would be sympathetic to the plaintiff. I settled because of this despite expert witnesses reassuring me that the care was totally appropriate.

The medical system is screwed up because of the distortions caused by insurance companies, federal regulators, lawyers(contingency fees), health care workers etc. Patients expect perfection and anything less may result in a malpractice suit, which by the way, is emotionally traumatic, time consuming and costly for the physician and the patient. Rational tort reform and a fund for patients who have suffered a major adverse event wold help. No contingency fees for lawyers and rare punitive damages might help. 

There are several sides to this problem and to blame the physicians, lawyers, plaintiffs and corporations  does no one any good. A more objective judicial system and limiting damages would go a long way,


SamAdams1234's picture

How much of the damage award would be unnecessary if all long-term care were covered, including the results of malpractice? National Health Insurance.

Tort reform is the wolf convincing the sheep to climb onto the grill to warm-up before dinner.

Doctor sahab's picture

When I was setting up my practice I decided to forgoe the NYC area because of the risk of frivolous lawsuits there. My partner trained in Brooklyn and my father and brother practice in Brooklyn. These people look to any outcome they don't like as a lottery win. People that have not taken care of their health who are now about to fall off the cliff expect a perfect outcome else they sue. Good riddance.

Gordon Freeman's picture

"anti-consumer propaganda"? Fuck you.

The only people who benefit from the "justice system" are the people who work in it: judges, law enforcement, and lots and lots of lawyers.  

The idea that this abomination exists to protect anyone, let alone the mythical and never-seen "little guy" is just a grotesque lie.

Citxmech's picture

Tell that to the pilot whose license, and job, I saved when the FAA tried to revoke his certificates for "falsification" of information.  He had made an error on a reporting block on one of his certificate applications in the past and had brought the error the to the FAAs attention to get it corrected.  Their response was to file an emergency order grounding him and to try and pull his tickets.

Had to take it to a full NTSB hearing because the FAA wouldn't back down.  Case against my guy was thrown out.

So Gordon - There's a case that I'm very proud of where I took on the Federal government for the benefit of the "little guy" and he, and his family benefited.

So fuck you.