Why Lawsuits are Good for America

Disciplined Democracy, Big Business, and the Common Law

265 pages

July, 2001

ISBN: 9780814713198



Also available in



Part of the Critical America series


Carl T. Bogus is Associate Professor at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.

All books by Carl T. Bogus

Judging by the frequency with which it makes an appearance in television news shows and late night stand up routines, the frivolous lawsuit has become part and parcel of our national culture. A woman sues McDonald’s because she was scalded when she spilled her coffee. Thousands file lawsuits claiming they were injured by Agent Orange, silicone breast implants, or Bendectin although scientists report these substances do not cause the diseases in question. The United States, conventional wisdom has it, is a hyperlitigious society, propelled by avaricious lawyers, harebrained judges, and runaway juries. Lawsuits waste money and time and, moreover, many are simply groundless.

Carl T. Bogus is not so sure. In Why Lawsuits Are Good for America, Bogus argues that common law works far better than commonly understood. Indeed, Bogus contends that while the system can and occasionally does produce “wrong” results, it is very difficult for it to make flatly irrational decisions. Blending history, theory, empirical data, and colorful case studies, Bogus explains why the common law, rather than being outdated, may be more necessary than ever.

As Bogus sees it, the common law is an essential adjunct to governmental regulation—essential, in part, because it is not as easily manipulated by big business. Meanwhile, big business has launched an all out war on the common law. “Tort reform”—measures designed to make more difficult for individuals to sue corporations—one of the ten proposals in the Republican Contract With America, and George W. Bush’s first major initiative as Governor of Texas. And much of what we have come to believe about the system comes from a coordinated propaganda effort by big business and its allies.

Bogus makes a compelling case for the necessity of safeguarding the system from current assaults. Why Lawsuits Are Good for America provides broad historical overviews of the development of American common law, torts, products liability, as well as fresh and provocative arguments about the role of the system of “disciplined democracy” in the twenty-first century.


  • “With gripping tales and careful analysis, Carl Bogus demonstrates that some of the greatest public safety innovations in the last century, such as dramatic improvements in automobile safety, were spawned not through legislation or regulation, but through private lawsuits demanding corporate accountability. More effectively and engagingly than anything I have read in some time, Why Lawsuits Are Good for America challenges what we thought we knew about tort law and makes clear why we should care.”

    —Jon D. Hanson, Harvard Law School

  • “An intellectual triumph. Carl Bogus not only debunks the political mythologies of ‘tort reform’ but rises eloquently to the defense of centuries of American common law. The unsung citizen jury has found a lucid champion in Professor Bogus, who tells a gripping story about the history of civil justice in our nation. This is a stirring and visionary work.”

    —Jamin B. Raskin, American University

  • “A classic demonstration of why democracy and citizen participation are crucial to fair, effective, accountable governance. This book is essential reading for every citizen.”

    —Scott Harshbarger, President of Common Cause

  • “A sorely needed corrective to the ceaselessly negative, factually distorted tirades aimed at the torts system by those seeking to prevent victims from shifting the costs of accidents to responsible wrongdoers.”

    —Joseph A. Page, Georgetown University Law Center

  • “Why Lawsuits are Good for America is lively, provocative, and well researched. Professor Bogus does an excellent job of debunking lawsuit "horror stories" that have been promoted by some academics and all too many politicians. This ambitious book makes a persuasive argument that juries are not out of control, but rather play an important role in American government. Anyone who has heard of the McDonald’s hot coffee case should read this book.”

    —Ross Cheit, Brown University