This letter is in response to the Op-Ed piece by Holly Hartung (“Frivolous Lawsuits: The Only Way to Facilitate Change in America”) last Thursday. This article presents a poorly misguided argument that glorifies frivolous lawsuits in the American system without presenting a shred of evidence that they actually make a difference. It also fails to acknowledge the great harm these suits cause by reducing our ability to take responsibility for our actions.
We are living in the days that you can sue a corporation for just about anything. My coffee is too hot. I’m too fat. The ice is melting too quickly. Only in one of the above examples was any change wrought, that being in the form of a caution label on fast food coffee. And I doubt anyone would call this a great societal change. Hartung offers no compelling evidence why these lawsuits change anything for the better. She cites a failed case in the fast food suit, but in the next paragraph acknowledges little was changed as an outcome. These lawsuits frequently produce no change when they are thrown out. So why tab them as a catalyst for change?
These lawsuits also create a lack of responsibility by refusing to force people to own up to their actions. If you’re too fat, maybe you should stop eating McDonalds for a while and start eating at home more. The oil companies are drilling in your backyard? Elect better representatives that will protect your interests and produce real, lasting change through legislation. Change won’t come from a ridiculous lawsuit that will likely never see the light of day. These lawsuits do great harm to our society by telling people they are not responsible for their actions and change little for good in the process. By Hartung’s criteria, you might as well have written an article claiming that blowing up buildings was the only hope for societal change. It’s potentially harmful to people, it’s purposeless and fundamentally changes our society. There you go! Change! Note: this contributor does not, I repeat, NOT support blowing up buildings as a means for societal change.
Lawsuits like these cheapen the concept of justice and responsibility in the United States. We as Americans are losing the ability to think for ourselves and take responsibility for things we have control over. If you slip on a sidewalk, be more careful and don’t sue the person who owns the house. Sure, the owner should have put some salt down, but you should have been watching where you were walking. These suits often change society by imposing more unnecessary rules, such as the caution label on coffee. Real suits, such as the one recently brought before the Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment and campaign finance laws are the real means to change, not frivolous lawsuits. Legal action in this country is crucial for to ensure that our rights are not violated, and legitimate cases are important to ensuring freedom. But frivolous lawsuits often cause more harm than good, and create meaningless change.
Jon Alfuth (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in political science.