Acton Institute Powerblog

Well, Allow Me to Re-tort

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Last month the Pacific Research Institute released a report estimating that costs associated with the American tort system exceed $865 billion per year (HT). Check it out for a detailed breakdown and comparison of these costs with other sectors of the economy and government spending. (Here’s a WSJ op-ed from the authors of the report.)

ABC’s 20/20 had a segment last week on the largest lottery winner in history, Jack Whittaker of West Virginia, who won $315 million in 2002. It’s a sad story for many reasons, but I want to point out one aspect of Whittaker’s tale.

At the time of his jackpot, Whittaker owned a successful construction company that was “doing $16 million to $17 million worth of work.” According to the story, Whittaker “enjoyed years of success with few complaints, but less than a year after winning the lottery things began to change.”

“I’ve had over 400 legal claims made on me or one of my companies since I’ve won the lottery,” said Whittaker.

When asked why that might happen, Whittaker said it’s because “everybody wants something for nothing.”

Rob Dunlap, one of Whittaker’s many attorneys, said Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits.

Another recent development in tort news is the mainstream acceptance of animal law, which will likely be front and center in any class-action lawsuit resulting from the poisoning of thousands of pets via Menu Foods products. Are pets persons or property?

Amy A. Breyer, one of the only full-time Chicago-based attorneys who specializes in animal law, says that when animals are considered property, as they are in Illinois, they have no voice in the courts.

For more reading on the devolution of the American tort system, check out Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation, by Ronald J. Rychlak, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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