Website Owners Losing ADA Lawsuits As DoJ Fiddles

InternetA Colorado-based retailer of travel goods is one of the latest businesses to be sued over its website under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a federal judge’s recent summary judgment against the company is sending shock waves across the Internet.

Colorado Bag’n Baggage has been ordered to change its website and pay $4,000 to a blind man who sued them under the ADA arguing they didn’t provide special tools like screen-reading software to help the man use the website. Judge Bryan F. Foster granted summary judgment to the plaintiff in March – reportedly the first time a court has done so in this type of case — and also ordered the business to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees which are expected to exceed $100,000.

Businesses, schools and other organizations that don’t construct their websites in a way that makes it possible for the blind, deaf and others with disabilities to use them are becoming more vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. Defendants have been arguing that a lack of clarity on how and if their websites must comply with the ADA means the lawsuits should be dismissed or delayed, but judges are increasingly willing to let the cases proceed.

The problem for website owners is that the ADA is not clear on which websites must comply with the law.  Does Title III of the ADA, which applies to places of public accommodations, apply to a business with a website that doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store? And does it apply to non-businesses, as well? Remember, the ADA was enacted in 1990, years before the Internet became a daily part of American life.

The Department of Justice has forced website owners to wait for clarification on those critical questions as it writes formal regulations. Despite promising regulations on Title III web accessibility in 2010, the DOJ has said it doesn’t plan to publish them until 2018 according to Amanda Robert writing for Forbes.

In the meantime, it’s not just businesses that are being sued.  Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were sued in federal court by the National Association of the Deaf last year for not providing captions and other aids for its online programming. The judge in those cases rejected arguments by the universities that the court should dismiss or stay the case while the DOJ works on its regulations.

In her decision, Judge Katherine Robertson stated: “there is no reason that this case and the administrative process cannot proceed simultaneously on separate tracks. Should DOJ issue either set of proposed rules while this case is still pending, the parties can bring them to the attention of the court so that the court can have the benefit of whatever aid they may offer.”


Imagine going to a baseball game and not knowing if a batter will be called out after three, four or five strikes. Or going to a football game and not knowing if a holding penalty would result in a 10-yard or 20-yard penalty. Forcing businesses and other entities to defend themselves in court against ADA lawsuits when the federal government hasn’t established rules for them to play by is the kind of thing that is leading the public to lose faith in the justice system.

When you have such diverse defendants as Harvard and a travel goods retailer crying foul, something is terribly wrong. In the meantime, the only ones who are thriving on this uncertainly, of course, are the plaintiff attorneys and their clients.

Why has the DOJ delayed providing the needed rules and allowed the situation to get so bad?  Is it indifference? As Walter Olson says on “More likely, it shows that even an administration that has launched many audacious and super-costly initiatives in regulation has figured out that this one is so audacious and super-costly that it should be – well, not dropped, but left as a problem for a successor administration.”

Please

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Lowering Health Care Costs By Eliminating Defensive Medicine

doctor holding xrayAccording to a nationwide survey of doctors conducted by Gallup, as much as one quarter of all the money spent on health care in the United States can be attributed to defensive medicine.

Defensive medicine happens when doctors order tests not to diagnose a medical problem but to protect themselves from lawsuits. So, when doctors say 25% of the money Americans spend on health care is spent on tests that are only needed because of litigation concerns, we should pay attention.

Bioscience Valuation, a Heath care economics firm, reports that all of that spending on defensive medicine amounted to $487 billion in the United States in 2015.  That’s billion with a B.  It’s no surprise that the dean of one of the largest medical schools in the country once said that the most expensive tool a physician uses is a pen…because of all the unneeded tests they order.

Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t provided a remedy to this problem. The Affordable Care Act did nothing to address defensive medicine.

Over the past 20-25 years, many states have attempted to reduce medical malpractice insurance rates doctors pay by enacting various tort reform measures, but these reforms have had little impact on the primary reason physicians practice wasteful defensive medicine: the constant fear that they can be sued for virtually any reason.

It’s time for a new approach.

Five states are leading the way by developing legislation that would create a new patient compensation system.  Florida, Georgia, Maine, Montana and Tennessee are considering a proposal that would create a no-blame administrative model and eliminate the broken medical malpractice litigation system which has been scaring physicians into practicing defensive medicine.

Under the proposal, an injured patient would file a claim with a panel of health care experts instead of filing a lawsuit which takes years to litigate with uncertain outcomes. If the panel of health care experts determine that a patients suffered a medical injury, the patient would be fairly, appropriately and quickly compensated. The principle is very similar to the one used to create the workers’ compensation systems used successfully throughout the United States for the past one hundred years.

With no need to fear lawsuits, doctors would no longer need to practice defensive medicine.  Health care costs would start to decrease as would health insurance premiums.

At the same time, patients would fare better, too.  Surveys have found that the vast number of injuries resulting from medical negligence go uncompensated. Many victims simply don’t want to drag their doctor into court to litigate a bad outcome. Despite all of the lawsuits that are filed, the adversarial system actually discourages many people from getting the justice – and the compensation – they deserve.

It’s time to try a new patient compensation system based on an administrative model that puts the patient first and removes the blame that doctors fear can ruin their reputation. A nonpartisan group based in Georgia called Patients for Fair Compensation is leading the charge for this sensible plan, and it’s working with leaders in the five states mentioned above.

Any significant reform like this is going to have opponents, and as could be expected, plaintiffs’ lawyers who make millions off the current system are leading the fight against it. However, America simply can’t afford to keep a system that is bad for doctors, bad for victims and and bad for taxpayers.

Please

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Woman Walks Into Ladder, Sues, Wins Huge Jury Verdict

AmbulanceChasersA six-figure jury verdict awarded to a woman who walked into a ladder while texting on her cell phone could be the new poster child for the dysfunction happening in America’s courts today.

If only the woman had listened to one of the myriad of public service announcements imploring cell phone users that when it comes to texting, “It can wait!”

Perhaps then our court system would not have been required to impanel a jury to hear this ridiculous case. But no, DeToya Moody of Georgia walked into a ladder that was clearly visible to everyone around her – and which even had the familiar orange warning cones around it.

So, of course, she did what too many Americans do these days. She sued.  She may have missed or ignored the type of public service announcements mentioned above, but she likely hasn’t missed the countless ads for personal injury lawyers that seem to air nonstop on television today.

A summary of the case was recently published in a Georgia legal publication. As you can read there, the woman hit her head on the bright orange ladder of a bucket-truck lift that had been lowered across a sidewalk by a crew doing some work in the area. She hit her head because her eyes were glued to her cell phone.

In court, the jury had to decide how much responsibility the woman had for her injury considering the fact that she wasn’t looking where she was going.  Surprisingly, the jury wound up saying she was only 8 percent responsible and awarded her one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars.

It’s a wonder that the jury didn’t assign a portion of the blame to the cell phone service provider, too. Certainly, if she hadn’t had the ability to conveniently send and receive texts while she was walking, she wouldn’t have walked into the ladder. Or how about the cell phone manufacturer? No cell phone, no distraction, and the woman avoids the ladder.

The list of those who are potentially responsible for the woman’s injury — other than the woman herself — could go on and on, but we wouldn’t want to put any ideas into the head of the lawyer who sued on behalf of Ms. Moody.

Speaking of the lawyer, he is quoted as saying he had “no idea where the 8 percent figure came from.” Join the club, counselor.

As if that wasn’t enough, the jury even awarded his client more than he requested, too. In fact, it was 7 times more than the cost of her medical expenses!  All for walking into something that was in plain sight.

Jury verdicts like this are distressing because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them. Why didn’t the jury award the woman a million dollars? Or ten million dollars? The courts have become a type of lottery. Pull the lever on a lawsuit and see how much you can win.

In the meantime, those who are sued have to ante up thousands of dollars to defend themselves, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. If they lose, they have to bite the bullet and pay up, or they roll the dice – we might as well stick with the gambling theme – and appeal the verdict to a higher court.

So that’s the point we’ve reached in America. A system of jackpot justice that seems to determine prizes based on where a lawsuit is filed and what kind of jury a plaintiff is “lucky” enough to draw.

Unfortunately, for anyone who’s looking for personal responsibility in the court system today, the odds seem stacked against you.

Please read more at 

Lawsuit Prompts Name Changes At Historic Sites In Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Tunnel ViewAn ongoing legal dispute between the National Park Service and one of its vendors is prompting the federal agency to rename some venerable landmarks in the park effective March 1. As unbelievable as it may seem, the name “Yosemite” is even at risk of being changed if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.

So far, the famous sites that will be receiving new names include the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, which will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and the Wawona Hotel, which will become Big Trees Lodge.

The Ahwahnee Hotel opened in 1927, and guests have included Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Steve Jobs. One of its early employees was an aspiring photographer named Ansel Adams.

History oozes from every corner of the grand old lodge, and that is why the name change is almost incomprehensible to anyone who has been to Yosemite. So why the changes?

Delaware North Corp., the company hired by the federal government to run the hotels and all concessions in the park twenty-three years ago lost its contract when the NPS let it out for bids in 2014. According to a report in the Washington Post, “its contract with NPS had a provision under which NPS promised to ensure that any successor concessionaire, in the event of a re-procurement, would compensate DNC for the buildings, facilities and ‘other property’ that it owned in connection with the concession contract.”

DNC says that “other property” includes trademarks it claims to have on the names Ahwahnee, Wawona and even Yosemite, so it has filed a lawsuit saying it should be paid $50 million for the trademarks. The NPS says the trademarks were never part of the deal when DNC took over concessions at Yosemite and that the new concessionaire, Aramark, should not have to pay to use the names.

However, with Aramark scheduled to take over at Yosemite March 1, the NPS may be concerned that the federal government could ultimately be held liable if the courts rule in favor of DNC. Even though DNC reportedly offered to lend the names for free until its court claim is resolved, the NPS is taking no chances and is changing the names of the two hotels, a ski area and another lodge. So far, the NPS has not proposed changing the name of Yosemite to something else.

IMG_0011The Ahwahnee Hotel has graced the Yosemite Valley for almost one hundred years because its builder did something revolutionary at the time. Previous hotels made of wood had burned to the ground during raging forest fires, so the architects decided to make the exterior of something resistant to fire. What appears to be wood siding and structural timber is actually stained concrete that was poured into molds to simulate a wood pattern.

It was an ingenious move. Yet even though the architects were able to protect the Ahwahnee from natural disasters, they weren’t able to protect it from man-made disasters, and that is what this legal mess has become. So, the name Ahwahnee is sadly gone for now.

By the way, before it was named Yosemite, native Americans called the place, Ahwahnee, because it means “place of the gaping mouth.” It’s easy to understand why their mouths were agape if you look at the massive granite walls that reach thousands of feet into the sky, if you listen to the thundering waterfalls or stand beneath the giant sequoia trees in this amazing area. Unfortunately, the mouths of many park lovers today are gaping for a much different reason – a visceral response to the preposterous idea that anyone could own the names of national treasures.

Please read more at 

GM Ignition Switch Lawsuit Unraveled By Radio Report

Steering WheelThe first trial involving a lawsuit against General Motors over its faulty ignition switches was scheduled to start recently, but the plaintiff lawyer who filed the case had to withdraw it in embarrassment after his client was exposed as a fraud. The case is the latest example of how some Americans have come to perceive the courts as a sort of lottery vault filled with easy money just waiting for them to claim.

General Motors has already settled at least 1,400 cases with alleged victims of the faulty ignition switch for hundreds of millions of dollars. The company has also paid over a billion in fines and other legal settlements. Apparently, the lure of all this money was just too great for a postman named Robert Scheuer from Tulsa, Oklahoma to pass up, so he sued GM, too.

According to one report, his lawyer, Robert Hilliard, had already settled over a thousand of the ignition cases with the company out of court, and he thought Scheuer’s case was the best one to litigate in court. He believed he had a sympathetic client because his client claimed to have been evicted from his home after a faulty ignition-induced accident caused memory loss that led him to misplace a down payment check for his home. It was regarded as a bellweather lawsuit and received nationwide media coverage…and that’s when the case began to fall apart.

One of the reports on the lawsuit that aired on radio was heard by Robert Kleven, a real estate agent in Tulsa. Kleven immediately recognized Scheuer’s name because the postman had cheated him in the very real estate deal he was using as the basis for his lawsuit.

In an attempt to buy a home from Kleven, Scheuer had altered a check issued by the government to make it appear as though he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in a bank account. Based on that, Kleven allowed the man and his wife to move into a new house in suburban Tulsa before they paid for it. However, Scheuer failed to ever produce the money, so Kleven, had to start an eviction process to get Scheuer out of the home.

After hearing about the lawsuit on the radio, Kleven quickly reported it to the company. GM reportedly sent a team to Tulsa to investigate the story and determined that it was true. Shortly after GM revealed Scheuer’s fraud to the court, the case was dismissed.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Obviously, the moral of this story is to be truthful. Hilliard was conned by his own client.

Unfortunately, fraud is a growing problem in America’s courts. Many people who have never been injured are filing lawsuits in shakedown schemes simply to enrich themselves. They hope to settle and walk away with a huge pile of cash. GM and other large companies are aware of this, and it’s why they are forced to litigate some lawsuits like this one after they’ve already settle hundreds or thousands of others.

The massive fraud uncovered in thousands of asbestosis lawsuits is another example of this. For more on that, click here. This type of fraud will continue until all judges send the message that frivolous lawsuits won’t be tolerated any more and that America’s justice system is not a lawsuit lottery. In the meantime, we hope that our weekly “Let’s Be Fair” radio commentary on these types of lawsuits will enable even more people like Robert Kleven to come forward.

Please

Sound Of Children Playing Outside Leads To An Insane Lawsuit

PlayhouseJudges across the United States have heard some pretty ridiculous lawsuits between neighbors over the years, but the latest legal dispute out of Plano, Texas may set a new low for neighborly relations.

Andrew and Kelly Counts are being sued by their next-door neighbors because they don’t like the sound the Counts’ children make when they’re playing outside. It’s not as if the kids are lighting firecrackers or bouncing balls off their house, either. According to one report, the neighbors simply sued the Counts for upsetting what they call their “tranquil quality of life.”

The offensive sounds are basically cries of excitement from the kids as they use a playhouse in their back yard. It’s important to note that the Counts received the permission of the city and their neighborhood association for placing the playhouse in the yard. In other words, they played by the rules and their neighbors simply don’t like it.

It’s also relevant to this story to note that the Counts homeschool their children, so the kids play outside during the day more than children who go to a traditional school. This is also apparently a source of aggravation for the neighbors. According to the report, “the lawsuit blamed the Counts for allowing their children to play outside when ‘most children are in regular schools.’” The case will certainly be watched closely by home school advocates.

People with disputes like this should always seek alternatives to litigation before turning to the courts, but even I wouldn’t condone the first remedy these thin-skinned neighbors tried before suing the Counts. After they became upset with the sound of the kids playing, they reacted by blaring loud rap music with profanity-laced lyrics when the kids used their playhouse. Talk about hitting a sour note!

It sounds like a certain set of neighbors need a lesson in how to settle disputes like adults. If that doesn’t work, maybe the judge can give them a time out!

Originally published on the news site EpicTimes.

Federal Judge Deals Blow To PETA’s Legal Monkey Business


Photo used with permission. Credit: ©Wildlife Personalities/David J Slater


















Wildlife photographer David Slater has braved some of the most inhospitable jungles around the world and has even been picked at by wild monkeys. However, nothing this British adventurer has done in the wild could have prepared him for the experience of being sued in the untamed American courts by an animal rights group, which is exactly what happened last year.

First, some background. In 2011, Mr. Slater was on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi photographing a species of monkeys called macaque. He was attracted to the animals because of what he describes as their “very human-like characteristics” and because they are very inquisitive and clever. Some of his pictures of them can be viewed on his website. Their inquisitiveness would ultimately attract the monkeys worldwide fame and, unfortunately, make Slater a target of a ridiculous lawsuit.

One day, while following a group of macaque, Slater put his camera on a tripod with a wide-angle lens and configured the settings such as predictive autofocus to give him a chance of a facial close up. As Mr. Slater explains, the monkeys seemed to love the shutter noise, and soon, they were grinning, grimacing and baring their teeth at themselves in the reflection of the large glassy lens.

Eventually, one of the monkeys pressed the shutter button while looking into the lens and captured a human-like smile that would charm everyone who saw it. The image went viral. In the weeks and months that followed, it did exactly what Slater had hoped it would do while he was trudging around the uncomfortable rainforest: raise awareness of the plight of this endangered species and provide him with some much-needed income. Slater holds a copyright on the photo that is valid in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and this is important for reasons mentioned below.

The photo eventually caught the attention of the group, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which went bananas and sued Slater. PETA claimed that the monkey in the photo, not Slater, owned the copyright to the image and should get any money generated by it.

However, Slater’s attorney, Andrew Dhuey, pointed out in his motion to dismiss the case that PETA’s “factual assertions regarding the creation of the famous Monkey Selfie Photograph” were erroneous. The image was captured only after Slater had worked meticulously to set it up.

While Slater’s work in making the photo possible is certainly important, frivolous lawsuits like this can sometimes be dismissed more quickly for other technical reasons. Therefore, his attorney argued that the monkey on whose behalf PETA was suing didn’t have legal standing. In short, he maintained that since Congress has not given non-human animals the right to sue for copyright infringement, the case should be tossed.

On January 6, federal judge William Orrick agreed and issued a proposed order granting the dismissal of the case. Case closed.

Well, maybe. NPR has reported that PETA is planning to keep fighting. And it has deep pockets.

While the hilarious image of the monkey in question has received worldwide attention, none of the reports on the judge’s action in this lawsuit have mentioned the fact that the photographer is British. This is relevant to the story because the lawsuit was filed in the United States, not Great Britain.

This kind of monkey business would never be tolerated in UK courts, or any other courts around the world for that matter. Unlike the United States, the UK has a “loser pays” legal system that would have required PETA to pay for Mr. Slater’s legal expenses if (when) it lost.

While anyone with common sense might look at this case and say PETA is foolish for filing it, the sad fact is that even PETA isn’t foolish enough to risk filing an outrageous lawsuit like this anywhere but the United States. And that should make every justice-loving American cringe.

Originally published on

♬ “It’s the Most Warningful Time of the Year” ♪

Christmas Tree warningIn 1963, one of America’s favorite crooners, Andy Williams, released a Christmas song entitled “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” that would become one of the standards of the holiday season. Little did he know that by the end of the century, the holiday season would also become the most “warningful” time of the year, too.

How so? Most of the gifts Americans will give to each other during the holidays are plastered with warning labels. In fact, there are often so many warnings that they can’t all fit on the product, so something as simple to use as a fountain pen may come with an “instruction manual” filled with warnings. And many of those labels warn us about things that are such common sense they’re downright wacky.

One of my favorites is a label found on the most popular child’s scooter sold in America. If you look closely, right on the handle bar between the grips it says, “Caution, this product moves when used.” Isn’t that the whole point of a scooter?

There is also a snow sled that warns, “Beware: sled may develop high speed under certain snow conditions.” Now, if you give your child a sled that doesn’t develop high speed when it’s used, you know it probably won’t be used much longer.

And then there is the label that was found on a live Christmas tree. It warned: “Not intended for human consumption!” What?! We can all understand the need for a warning like that on some fruitcakes, but on a live Christmas tree?

Consumer products are now loaded with warnings because product makers know that if they don’t provide them, even if the warning is about something that is common sense, they can be sued by someone who may be injured while using their product. Everyone knows that a scooter will move when a child uses it, but in America, companies are being sued even when their product wasn’t defective.

Virtually all lawsuits filed nowadays over injuries involving a consumer product have a common denominator: they claim the manufacturer “failed to warn” the consumer about a potential danger. So, even if the danger is obvious, the warning is now provided.

What many people don’t know is that these common sense, obvious warnings aren’t nearly as common in other parts of the world. As the host of the annual Wacky Warning Label Contest, I have done scores of radio and TV interviews with reporters in Europe and Asia over the years, and the most common question I get is, “Why don’t we see warning labels like this in our country?”

The answer is that the United States is the most lawsuit-happy society on earth, and these common sense warnings are put on our products to avoid lawsuits. The number of tort lawsuits in America dwarfs the number of tort lawsuits filed in any other country in the world when taken as a percentage of the national economic output. In the United States, the amount of the Gross Domestic Product that goes to tort costs is 2.2%. That’s twice what it is in Germany (1.1%) and nearly three times what it is in Japan (.8%). The United Kingdom and France spend even less on tort costs than Japan.

While there is certainly a place for legitimate lawsuits, excessive litigation has become such an everyday part of life in America that many people don’t notice it anymore. And it’s why the holiday season, in addition to being the most wonderful time of the year, is also the most warningful time of the year.

If judges and lawmakers begin telling plaintiff lawyers with regularity that personal responsibility and common sense still have a place in America’s courts, product makers won’t need to keep putting common sense warnings on their products. Until that happens, we’ll continue seeing labels like the one found on a pair of shin pads used by bikers that warns: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”

If you find a hilarious, common sense warning on one of the gifts you receive, send it to us for a chance to win the $1,000 grand prize in our Wacky Warning Label Contest.

Fear, Not Facts, Too Often Guides Medicine

Doctor with noteDuring the busy holiday season, the last thing anyone wants to have to do is take time to visit a doctor’s office when they’re sick. However, if it becomes necessary, and you find yourself sitting in a waiting room thinking about all of the other things you have to do, be thankful there’s not one more thing you’re thinking about: being sued.

Why? Because that’s often what the doctor you’re about to see is thinking about. Or, at least, it’s one more thing in the back of her mind dictating many of the decisions she will make throughout the day. And it’s having a major impact on medicine in America today.

That’s what many physicians will tell you if you can get them to talk about practicing medicine in the most litigious society on earth. Recently, a cardiologist who also teaches at one of the top medical schools in the country took time to write about this troubling reality.

According to Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, a clinician educator and assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the type of medicine you receive is too often being dictated by fear rather than facts because doctors often find themselves looking over their shoulder for the next lawsuit.

In a recent op-ed, he points out that:

“Defensive medicine, defined as medical decision-making and care provided solely for the purpose of avoiding malpractice litigation, accounts for a significant proportion of healthcare costs today. While striving to provide excellent care for their patients, physicians are faced with the harsh realities of our litigious society.”

In medical school, he says, physicians are taught to think like Sherlock Holmes. When a patient presents with a set of symptoms and physical findings, doctors develop a differential diagnosis (a list of possible causes) and then work to eliminate possibilities through logic and objective data. When defensive medicine is practiced, however, “this entire system is disturbed because physicians are not being led by logic and objective data. Instead, they are trying to avoid a malpractice claim.”

Practicing medicine isn’t like this for physicians everywhere, however. It’s certainly not like this in Europe. According to a 2011 survey by one of the leading survey research companies in the U.S., RAND, 99% of American physicians in high-risk specialties will face a lawsuit at least once in their careers while in Europe, that number is only 20%. Here, being sued is virtually a given. There, if you’re sued, you’re in a small minority of doctors.

Maybe that’s why the highly respected British Medical Journal decided to publish a study conducted in the United States that looks at the relationship between physician spending and risk for malpractice claims. As doctor Campbell reveals, after “hospital data for more than 24,000 physicians were sampled; the researchers found that the higher the resource use, the lower the risk for malpractice claims. In a nutshell, that means doctors who ordered more tests were significantly less likely to be sued for malpractice.”

There’s no evidence that doctors in the US are any worse than doctors in Europe. It’s our legal system that allows this. And when doctors are put in the position of having to order more tests to cover themselves in case they’re sued, the cost of health care we all pay soars.

The head of one of our nation’s largest medical schools once told me that the most expensive tool a physician uses today is not something big, like an X-ray machine, a CT scanner or a surgical robot. Rather, it’s something very simple. It’s the pen he or she uses to order tests that aren’t necessary.

Originally published on

Giving Thanks For Alternatives To Traditional Litigation

Tribal CourtAs Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this week, children in schools across the nation are learning about how the first Pilgrims relied on Native Americans to survive their first year. That’s an important part of our history, but there is still a lot that we can learn from Native American tribes today, including how to use courts to resolve conflicts.

Did you know that there are about one hundred and fifty tribal courts across the United States? Unlike state and federal courts that use an adversarial system to resolve disputes, many tribal courts use a different approach.

The National Institute of Justice, an agency of the US Department of Justice, points out that while some indigenous justice systems are based on the American paradigm for courts, many others use a holistic philosophy that focuses not just on punishment and providing victims with payment, but on bringing harmony and peace to the community.

According to the NIJ website:

“The holistic philosophy is a circle of justice that connects everyone involved with a problem or conflict on a continuum, with everyone focused on the same center. The center of the circle represents the underlying issues that need to be resolved to attain peace and harmony for the individuals and the community. The continuum represents the entire process, from disclosure of problems, to discussion and resolution, to making amends and restoring relationships.”

Sounds a lot more constructive than traditional litigation, for sure. Because of its many benefits, US courts have adopted some of this philosophy in recent years and now actively promote alternatives to litigation like mediation and arbitration. Not only is alternative dispute resolution usually much less expensive, aggravating and time-consuming than litigation, it has a tremendous success rate.

It’s so successful, in fact, that state and local governments around the country fund mediation programs and strongly encourage courts to utilize them. Unfortunately, many people still don’t even know these programs exist and often unnecessarily spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers when their problem could be better resolved in mediation or arbitration.

One big reason for this is likely that we’re bombarded with ads by personal injury lawyers and rarely hear anything about mediation or arbitration in the media. If we counted how many ads there are on TV for personal injury lawyers compared to ads for mediation services, I’d guess there would be about 100,000 ads for personal injury firms for every one ad there is for mediation, and that’s probably being conservative.

Mediation and arbitration aren’t going to work in all disputes, but this Thanksgiving, it’s important to know that alternative dispute resolution is available, and it often leaves people thankful they ditched their lawsuit and tried something new. For more information, one great source is the National Association for Community Mediation.