The Changing Nature of Lawsuits


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One of the favorite topics for late-night comics is often the latest lawsuit filed by an American against another person or a company for injuries, perceived or real.

Postcard from the Rondout, High Falls, N.Y.

The Rondout Creek swimming hole is now privately owned and closed to the public. Some High Falls, N.Y. residents sued to have it reopened. This postcard, mailed in 1906, says "This is a swell place we were here rowing yesterday" (sic).
(Photo: Century House Historical Society)

There's the one about the man who sued a beer manufacturer for false advertising. He claimed when he drank the beverage, the success he was promised with women never happened. The case was dismissed. Then there was the woman who sued the company that makes "The Clapper," -- the gadget that turns on appliances when you clap -- claiming she hurt her hands because she had to clap too hard to make it work. The judge said she should have just adjusted the sensitivity control.

But contrary to what some might think, Americans don't sue over everything. While the big verdicts are getting bigger, evidence suggests the number of ordinary tort suits filed in recent years -- along with the size of the verdicts -- is not rising. In fact, the numbers may be on a downward trend. Still, companies large and small -- as well as cities and landowners -- have changed how they do things because of fear of being sued.

On Tuesday, July 31, in our final segment in The Changing Face of America Series, NPR's Wendy Kaufman takes a look at how litigation -- or the threat of it -- has changed American life.

The Changing Face of America is an 18-month long NPR project that tells the stories of regular, everyday Americans and the issues they face at a time of rapid and dramatic change in the U.S. This special series can be heard on NPR's Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

The Changing Face of America series is sponsored by
The Pew Charitable Trusts.