A new year brings a new chance for reform

The new year allows us to reflect on some of last year’s highlights and lowlights, and set achievable resolutions for 2019.  The Institute of Legal Reform captured this practice of looking back at events in the prior year by publishing its 2018 Top Ten Most Ridiculous Lawsuits: .  Two out of the top ten most ridiculous lawsuits were filed here in California, including the lawsuit over health warning labels on brewed coffee as well a lawsuit alleging a consumer was misled that Kona beer was brewed in Hawaii instead of other locations throughout the United States, and of course, should be compensated for the damage he suffered from this confusion.  California also claimed the #1 spot on the American Tort Reform Association’s 2018 Judicial Hellhole list due to the “propensity of California judges and legislators to extend liability at almost every given opportunity.”  Unfortunately, California is a repeat player on this list.

Not all lawsuits filed in California are ridiculous or frivolous.  There certainly is a need and place for lawsuits to settle legitimate disputes where an injury has occurred.  But, there is also a growing need for California’s litigious environment to be reined in.  California laws that allow an individual to sue even when they have suffered no injury or damage, drive up costs for everyone, crowd court dockets, and delay justice in legitimate cases.  An article commenting on the Kona beer lawsuit referenced above stated “instead of investing its resources back into making great beer, Kona will spend time and money fighting this sudsy lawsuit, potentially leading to higher prices for craft beer consumers . . . [t]hanks to this crazy lawsuit, you could be paying more the next round.”  Frivolous litigation also drives more and more companies to require arbitration clauses simply to avoid the cost and time associated with litigation.  A bill to ban arbitration in labor and employment disputes has already been introduced for 2019 legislative session.  But banning arbitration doesn’t address the underlying problem of lawsuit abuse, and will ultimately add to the overcrowding of California judicial dockets.

Now that we have reflected on California’s legal environment in 2018, it’s also tradition to set resolutions for the new year.  I tend to prefer realistic resolutions that lead to success rather than the more ambitious and often unattainable resolutions that often lead to failure. So, while it would be amazing if there was a complete overhaul of laws in 2019 that contribute to California’s hostile legal environment, the more reasonable and realistic resolution for California should be to at least incrementally improve the litigation environment by limiting frivolous lawsuits where no injury has occurred and hopefully avoid at least the top spot on the Judicial Hellhole list in 2019.

Jennifer Barrera, Senior Vice President, Policy