I remember very clearly being about twelve years old and watching Oprah for the first time. I don’t remember what the show was about, but she commented on the subject at hand by saying that “America is very litigious country.” I was like whaaaaat? That was one of the doper words I’d ever heard, but had no idea what it meant. I ran to get a dictionary (yes, the book version) to read that it means “prone to lawsuits.” Yes. That would be my new word forever.
Since then, like most things she says, I’ve taken Oprah’s statement to be true. We do live in a society where everything from accusations that McDonald’s turned you into a prostitute to claims that online criticism from ex-girlfriends ruined your life can make its way to a court of law. As shown by Basketball Wives‘ Jennifer Williams proudly suing another woman for a little slap in the face, even escapism reality tv has turned into an opportunity for lawsuits. Daytime television is a steady stream of small claims court shows featuring gripes that sometimes amount to less than $100 worth of damages — many of the conflicts have the same content as trashy talk shows, just laced with the kind of lawyering talk that we love. Cable news has birthed channels exclusively devoted to following court cases with pundits who wouldn’t have been on television before the O.J. era explaining to us laypeople what each and every legal twist and turn really means. Everybody knows that one of the best ways to come up on a lot of money is to win a settlement. America really is as litigious as it wants to be.
But as much as I regularly set my DVR for Law & Order, I cannot imagine suing anyone unless the stakes were pretty high. If you watch People’s Court, which I love, you know that aside from “sorting out the pots and pans” after a romantic relationship gone bad, housing and cars are the most popular reasons for going to small claims court. Likewise, I’ve considered lawsuits against former roommates and landlords, a car dealership, and a mechanic, but couldn’t be bothered, and have never considered suing anyone else who has simply done me wrong (and like all of us, I’ve come across plenty of such people). In an alternate universe where I’m getting divorced, someone has cost me thousands of dollars, or has caused me physical harm I could see myself getting a lawyer and handling my business, but it would take a lot for me to actually file a lawsuit.
Where do you stand? Are you litigious? What would it take for you to sue someone?