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The "Little Guy" and civil justice reform

A fictional dialogue by Evan Schaeffer repeats the common trope that the "little guy," a Joe Sixpack, is who is hurt by tort reform most. It's actually a fairly insulting What's-the-Matter-with-Kansas-style claim that Joe Sixpack (who's likely in the 80%+ in polls who support tort reform) is too stupid to recognize what policies are really good for him. But Joe Sixpack is smarter than Schaeffer's characters give him credit for—which is why it takes millions of dollars of trial lawyer money in elections in three branches of government to override the popular will in this area.

Those millions of dollars by themselves put the lie to the claim that civil justice reform will hurt the little guy the most; it's clear that the main beneficiaries of the status quo are the members of the litigation lobby.

And it's Joe Sixpack who stands to gain the most from civil justice reform in terms of lower prices and greater economic opportunity. Those born wealthy or who have fungible skills beyond rent-seeking in a particular jurisdiction are better situated to avoid the problems created by an economy made sclerotic by the predations of trial lawyers. An unskilled or manufacturing worker who's one of the tens of thousands of people who lost his or her job because of abusive asbestos litigation is probably not so well-situated.

Who is going to represent the little guy? Certainly not the trial lawyers, who represent themselves first, and then the little guy only when a particular little guy is a means to that end. If the little guy is a small business fighting off extortionate slip-and-fall or employment litigation where winning costs more than settling for the plaintiff's demand, it's not the trial lawyers who are on the side of the loser-pays reform that will make the difference between staying in business and not. If the little guy is someone who would be better off or happier with a sub-prime mortgage or a morning-sickness cure, it's the trial lawyers fighting to keep these options from the little guy.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.