From absurd lawsuits to irrational verdicts, the abuse of the legal system in America continues a downward spiral; lawsuits for burns from spilled coffee – unknowingly hot – to even more ridiculous claims like the man who recently filed suit against the Guinness Book of World Records for naming him the World's Most Litigious Man. What can you do to avoid litigation and seek protection from frivolous lawsuits?
Literally hundreds of thousands of lawsuits, spanning the reasonable to the outrageous, are filed each year in America. There were approximately 507,761 new tort cases (i.e. civil wrongs not arising out of contractual obligations) filed in 2006 alone. That is 1,381 new cases per day (National Center for State Courts).
A USA Today article dated March 3, 2003 states: "The fear of possible lawsuits has actually changed the culture of America. Talk to teachers. Keeping discipline is hard when students can threaten that any decision might violate their presumed rights. Forget about putting an arm around an upset second-grader – someone might claim it was an unwanted sexual advance. Visit a playground and look for a seesaw. They are rapidly disappearing, going the way of merry-go-rounds, diving boards, and other joys of childhood."
Frivolous lawsuits engender a distressing condition of localized fear and personal protectionism. I remember when I was young – those were the days when my father would pull his vehicle off the road to assist those with flat tires or steam billowing from underneath the hoods of their cars. Except in states with "Good Samaritan" laws on the books, the risk of possible lawsuit hinders this type of service today.
The article continues: "What is missing is law. A famous judge once defined law as the prediction of what a court will do. Now, no one in the U.S. has any idea what a court will do. What that means is that Americans no longer enjoy the protection of law. … Today, they realize that they can get sued for almost anything."
Proverbs 25:8 states: "Do not go hastily to court; For what will you do in the end, when your neighbor has put you to shame?" Even if your case is valid, you may open yourself up to unforeseen difficulties and expense. Truth many times has little to do with justice in this world's courts. Many of us have heard of case after case revealing loopholes discovered by lawyers as they waded through mountains of legal books to find just the right gap in the legal systems' logic.
In criminal cases, we hear of stories of people wrongfully imprisoned, serving decades behind bars for crimes they never committed, until years later when their innocence is proven; they are released, left vainly to struggle to redeem the lost years.
Jesus instructed His followers to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) and, "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also" (v. 40). Does this mean we have to just lie down and let someone take us for everything we have? No, Jesus makes the point that the prevailing attitude should be to suffer a little wrong if need be.
Major disputes not able to be settled with your neighbor privately must be settled elsewhere. In the world, that is usually in a court of law. Romans 13 shows that God has allowed the governments of this world to maintain law and order and to punish crime. Matters involving the laws of this world, therefore, can be settled in the world's courts. It is not wrong to use the protection of the law – or to assert our rights under the law; the Apostle Paul himself did so (Acts 22:25). We should keep in mind that the civil authorities that exist are ordained of God (Romans 13:1-2), and that such are "God's minister to you for good … an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."
Though it is not wrong to take reasonable measures, even with the help of law enforcement or the courts, to protect ourselves or our families from loss or abuse, Christians should avoid seeking vengeance through the courts (or by any other means) when a neighbor wrongs us. Paul gives the admonition: "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). God is the avenger of those who suffer wrong at the hands of others. We resist God's protection when we actually take vengeance into our own hands.
How should we Christians conduct ourselves in a litigious society? The answer: As Christians, we should conduct ourselves in an upright, honest, and giving manner – in accordance with God's law, practicing the way of "give." We should remember Paul's general admonition: "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).
God's law is a law of liberty and of love – love toward God and love toward neighbor. To learn more about His law, read our informative booklet, The Ten Commandments. Find favor in God's sight, and peace with your neighbor, by resisting the temptation to instigate litigation, and practicing the way of peace.