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book Some aspects of USA Legal System

You are going to read an extract from the book Living and Working in America by David Hampshire in which the author explains a particular field of American legal system, litigation. But before you start reading, do this vocabulary exercise to help you with the difficult words in the text.

Litigation is an American tradition and national sport, and every American has a right to his day in court (as well as to his 15 minutes of fame). There are 15 to 20 million civil suits a year, which leads to a huge backlog of cases in all states and even the Supreme Court. One of the most unusual aspects of US law is that lawyers are permitted to work on a contingency fee basis, whereby they accept cases on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis. If they win, their fee is as high as 50 per cent of any damages. If you must hire a lawyer on a non-contingency basis, the cost is usually prohibitive.

Many people believe this system helps pervert the cause of justice, as a lawyer’s only concern is winning a case, often irrespective of any ethical standards or the facts of the matter. The contingency-fee system is responsible for the proliferation of litigation cases, which lawyers are happy to pursue because of the absurdly high awards made by US courts.

The litigation system is primarily designed to make lawyers rich, while ensuring that almost everyone else ends up a loser. Not only must individuals have liability insurance to protect against being sued, but everyone from doctors to plumbers must have expensive malpractice insurance to protect themselves against litigious patients or customers. The whole US economy and legal system is underpinned by litigation (in which it seems half the population are directly employed and the other half are plaintiffs or defendants!).


In many states, there are hair-raising product liability, personal liability and consequential loss laws. Some of these have limited liability, while others don’t, meaning that multiple warnings are printed on the most unlikely articles. In fact, most companies attempt to anticipate the most ridiculous and implausible events in order to protect themselves against litigation. Taken to ridiculous extremes a bottle of beer would have warnings about drinking and driving, choking on the stopper, breaking the glass and cutting yourself or someone else, swallowing broken glass, taking alcohol where it’s prohibited, drinking under age or giving a drink to someone under age, alcoholism, carrying alcohol in your car or over certain state borders, being mugged or falling over while drunk, etc, etc. – and this is hardly an exaggeration!


If you’re the victim of an accident, you must never discuss your injuries with anyone connected with the other party and must never sign any documents they present to you without legal advice. Put the matter in the hands of an experienced litigation lawyer and let him handle everything. And in case you might forget, there are television adverts advising you of your rights to sue in accident situations, by attorneys claiming special competence at winning huge settlements.

Most companies and professionals are so frightened of the courts that many cases don’t go to trial, e.g. personal injury and medical malpractice cases, which, apart from the cost of losing, are bad for business. This adds to the proliferation of law suits, as it’s expensive to fight a legal battle even if you win, and litigants know that most companies are happy to settle out of court. If you’re in business and not being sued by at least 100 people, it’s usually a sign that you’re broke and therefore not worth suing. If someone sues you for your last dime, don’t take it personally – it’s simply business.

( More information about Living and Working in America here.)

Now you can do the Comprehension check exercise.

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