Friday, August 17 , 2018, 3:35 am | Fair 68º


Tom Donohue: Our Economy Pays the High Costs of Lawsuit Abuse

The United States has the world’s costliest legal system. What’s driving up the costs? Excessive litigation and abusive legal practices — and they are taking a heavy toll on our economy, businesses and workers. Some recent examples are so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe they’re true. But you can’t make this stuff up.

A commercial fisherman faced a potential 20 years in jail after overzealous federal prosecutors used a corporate governance law written to prevent white-collar crime to target him over three missing fish. Federal marine officials reportedly discovered 72 red grouper below the minimum harvesting size of 20 inches on John Yates’ boat and ordered him to take his catch to shore to be seized as evidence. At port, a government inspector counted only 69 fish.

Yates, who maintains that the fish were initially miscounted, was charged with and convicted of destroying evidence to impede an investigation over the three alleged missing fish.

The Supreme Court will consider his case during its fall term, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed a brief supporting Yates. In the meantime, his business and reputation have been severely damaged.

A Buffalo Bills fan sued the NFL team for receiving too many text messages — messages that he had signed up to receive. The fan claimed that he received three more messages in a two-week period than the Bills had promised to send and sought statutory damages. In the end, the lead plaintiff pocketed $5,000 in damages, other recipients of the extra texts received $2.4 million in payouts and the lawyers walked away with a cool $562,500. So if you ask the Bills how much three extra text messages cost, the answer is $3 million.

Lawsuit lending has become another area of abuse. Not all lawsuits are ridiculous, and individuals with a legitimate claim should have their day in court. But some lenders are slapping plaintiffs with interest rates as high as 250 percent for loans to cover living expenses while their lawsuit is pending.

In a recent Michigan case, six women borrowed $635,000 to file a suit against the state — and ended up owing the lender $3.1 million!

These are just a few of hundreds of instances of lawsuit abuse. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform is fighting to prevent our justice system and our courts from being hijacked by a handful of players that wish to enrich themselves — at the cost of our economy and jobs. Fifteen states have made reforms to their legal systems over the past four years. It’s time that Congress and other states follow suit.

To learn more, visit

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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