Australia vs. US

I really couln’t figure out where to put this, so I hope MPSIMS was a good choice.

In another thread over in the pit, in which spooje is very angry, some one made reference to not wanting to raise children in America, as we’re getting away from “free will” and “responsibility”, and asked if there was no place on earth where these meant anything anymore. This reminded me of a conversation I had with an Aussie coworker of mine last year.

Me: Are they as litigation-happy over there as we are here?
Him: No…we settle our differences the old fashioned way, with a punch in the face!

Now, this may not appeal to you, but it appealed to me, more than our I’ll-sue-the-hell-out-of-you scapegoat mentality. So I was wondering if there’re any dopers with a knowledge of each country that can do a quick compare/contrast for me:

Per the thread I mentioned above, would a bar be held accountable for a drunk driver in Australia?

Could some one bring a suit against coke-a-cola if some moron tips on of their machines on top of himself, thereby killing himself?

Could a smoker sue a cigarrette company for $3billion successfully?

And stuff like that. Thanks much!

I’ve lived in a few different places and I would have to say that the USA is far and away out in the front as far as civil litigiousness is concerned. I can’t see any of the scenarios which you have mentioned flying in any other country, and it probably took quite a few shots from the lawyers in the US before these got through.

Germany, which was said to have the second highest numbers of lawyers per capita, was not even close. The strangest thing I heard of there would be that people would be if, for example, your kid ran into the street to chase a ball, someone swerved to avoid your kid and smashed up their Benz, then they would sue for the damage on the Benz. But just to fix the car, not for the trauma of needing to swerve.

At a further extreme, in Thailand, there was one instance of a building which collapsed because the construction company had cut corners. Many people lost their lives. Two things happened: 1) Some low level flunky was made a scapegoat and possibly did some prison time 2) a small stipend was paid to the victims’ families and a public apology was made. Net, there is very little accountability for the people in control when big mistakes are made. Everyone kind of knows this, but partly because it is a heavily Buddhist country, and thus the general belief is that you shall reap what you have sown in your next existence, there is little chance that this will change in the short term.

So, is it that people are held more accountable for their own actions, that it is harder to hold corporations and whatnot accountable for misadventure or accidents or that the idea of accountability is moot?

I was trying to weasel out of the opinion part of this as much as possible, because it could get long and probably divisive. Since I don’t personally know anyone who has ever been involved in a large civil suit, its very difficult to discern motivation, I could only offer conjecture. MHO is that Europeans, in general, are more likely to believe that life is risky and the risk is incumbent on the participant. To wit, US lawyers on vacation in Europe must salivate when they see how European playgrounds are designed (lots of tall dangerous things to climb on and fall off of). I don’t recall signing any document with lots of small writing on it in order to rent skis/snowboards, purchase a lift ticket, etc.
In southern Asia life is inherently more risky, and I didn’t get the impression that it would even occur that someone else could be held accountable for one’s own actions. Can’t speak to the rest of the globe quite as much, only spent a little time in South America.

A few weeks back, there was an incident in which some guy got utterly plowed and fell through the railing on a bridge. He announced plans to sue the bar. (He’d been engaged in competitive drinking, which I think was sanctioned by the bar.) The bar owners scoffed at the charge, but the impression I got was that it was possible for him to bring suit.

Let me admit straight off that I’ve never been to the US, so my knowledge of your country is not a firsthand one (sheesh, first sentence, and already a disclaimer :smiley: ).

It is true that Australians can be very laid back people indeed when comapared to their US counterparts, but this is more on an individual level (it’s also an extreme generalisation). On a legal/government/corporate level however, I’d say we are very nearly as addicted to litigation as is America.

My brother is a ranger in a large country town and is now studying law through his job. He told me that my home state of New South Wales is the second most litigious place on the planet after California. Yes, a bar can be liable if it is proven that drunk customer who was involved in an accident was served alcohol when already intoxicated. Both the bar owner (licence holder) and the staff member who provided service can be issued with a hefty fine. Bars in Sydney these days have a plethora of signs plastered about the place saying such things as “Intoxicated persons will be refused service”, “Any person refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so will be guilty of an offence. The police will be called”, and “This establishment does not participate in promotions which encourage rapid drinking, excessive drinking, or promotions which unfairly target either men or women”. So, no more “beer busts” or “Girls drink free” nights. Slot machines are similarly covered in signs and phone numbers for gambling counselling services. Warnings on cigarette packets are huge and to the point - “SMOKING KILLS”. If you break into my house and injure yourself, there would be legal precedent on your side if you chose to sue me. Doctors’ fees are skyrocketing because they are running scared of being sued for malpractice.

US style class actions and lawyers operating on a “No win, no fee” basis are much more common in Australia now than ever before; this is encouraging litigation.

In short, there may be reasons for prefering Australia as a place to raise children (we came second behind Norway in a recent quality of life survey), but freedom from litigation is not one of them. Accident victims who have been grossly negligent can and do sue others successfully here. The toppling Coke machine example would probably be a successful case here with the right lawyers. I must admit I find travel in Asia a very refreshing experience because of the lack of meddling laws. Yes, I know there’s a downside to this, but it’s still nice for a change.

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