More than 600,000 of Los Angeles County’s workforce is now unemployed due to our national economic crisis. Public tax revenues have plummeted, critical services have been slashed, family incomes have stagnated and the business climate is depressed. While we struggle to find a comprehensive solution to these economic woes, one obvious, critical remedy is consistently ignored: civil litigation reform. California’s burdensome and biased litigation climate discourages new start-up businesses, slows the growth of our existing small companies and threatens millions of jobs at the very moment we need them the most.
California has one of the worst litigation climates in the nation. Pointless, wasteful and unnecessary civil lawsuits are immensely expensive. Unnecessary civil actions drive up prices, slow the growth of small companies, kill jobs, and push new business startups out of our state. In an economy as depressed as ours, we simply cannot afford to waste critical resources or hinder the business recovery. Right now, we need jobs, not lawsuits.
As the local small business owner of Barney’s Beanery Restaurant, my employees and I have personally experienced the costs and consequences of unwarranted litigation. Restaurants have been particularly hurt by abusive lawsuits. Abusive lawsuits are those where there is no harm to employees or customers but are lawsuits that go forward based on technical violations or arbitrary interpretation of regulations or the law.
Last year, more than 1.6 million class action, tort, personal injury, damages and contract lawsuits were filed in California. We are currently the most litigious state in the nation. Not only do we file more civil actions than any other state, but our courts are among the most biased. A recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked our state among the five most biased court systems in the country. The California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a grassroots non-partisan organization, survey of National Federation of Independent Business owners in California recently found that 98 percent of surveyed small business owners believe lawsuits hurt our economy, one third had been sued in the last five years, more than half the owners had been threatened with lawsuits, and more than 100 companies moved to other states with more evenhanded legal systems.
We can’t know the full financial cost or number of jobs lost to frivolous lawsuits. But what is certain is that these economic losses are a serious burden that diminishes our chances for recovery. On the positive side, there is a clear and straight forward solution to our litigation problem: responsible state legislative action to correct our legal system. But sadly, bills introduced to balance California’s abusive litigation system are routinely defeated in the Legislature — most often because of opposition by personal injury lawyers and their lobbyists. We, as citizens and voters, need to counter this political influence. We need to find out where candidates stand on legal reform before we vote. We need to make lawsuit abuse a priority, we need to hold our elected officials accountable, and we need to do it now.
It is time our Legislature acted to balance our courts, stop abusive lawsuits and give businesses the opportunity to restore this state’s economy.
If our current legislators won’t reform the civil justice system, then it’s time for voters to change the current legislators for those who will!
David Houston is the chair of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. He lives in Pacific Palisades. California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is a nonpartisan, grassroots movement of concerned citizens and businesses who are fighting against lawsuit abuse in California.