INSIGHTS: ECONOMIC IMPACT OF PANIC POLICYMAKING
We all want safe communities for people and pets. Unfortunately, when a serious dog attack occurs, the outcry often leads to panic policymaking. Panic policymaking ( the swift enactment of laws or regulations under the pressure of sudden, unreasonable, and excessive fear and/or anger) not only results in ineffective measures, it often wastes valuable tax dollars and may even worsen the original perceived threat. This can be seen when communities enact breed-specific/discriminatory legislation (BSL) – there is nothing specific about it.
After a highly publicized dog-related incident, some public officials feel pressured and fail to do their homework. They hastily enact a ban or strict regulations on a variety of dog breeds or types, thinking that this will solve the problem. Actually, they just have exacerbated it and made their community more vulnerable to dangerous dogs of all breeds. They in essence have decided not to focus on a dog’s behavior but its appearance. By shifting the focus and governmental resources away from behavior, they now have their officers picking up perfectly well-behaved pets and infringing on responsible citizens’ property rights. Overcrowding at the animal shelters and the killing of friendly dogs follow, and the community opens itself to a plethora of lawsuits.
Indeed, studies done in countries with breed-discriminatory laws, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, found that these laws didn’t reduce the number of dog bites or improve public safety. Based on these studies and concerns about due process and property rights infringement, the American Bar Association, the National Animal Control Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association don’t support breed discrimination. They support laws that go after the real problem: the behavior of the individual dog and the behavior of the reckless owner.
So what would effective public policy look like? It begins with shifting the focus from the dog to the owner. We know that bad owners lead to bad dogs. If you take a dog away from them, they will likely just get another dog and train it or neglect it until it becomes mean. So instead of sending police out confiscating every friendly pet that resembles a certain breed, why not get to the heart of the problem and target the reckless owner? Such an approach prevents bad owners from having pets and judges both owners and pets by their behavior, not their appearance.
“Problem pet owner” ordinances are now sprouting up around the country to effectively hold irresponsible individuals accountable and place the blame where it should usually be – on the owner.After all, this is America. Every American who follows the right safety rules as a responsible dog owner should be allowed to own whatever breed of dog they choose – it’s that simple.
Based on an earlier co-authored piece for Mid Atlantic Animal Law – “Fiscal Bite & Breed Discrimination: Utilizing Scientific Advances & Economic Tools in Lobbying.” Read it in its entirety here.
Click here to view our Fiscal Impact Calculator created for Best Friends Animal Society.
ON THE ECONOMY: GIMME THE LOOT
Ok, so I can’t use any of the lyrics to Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 rap in a family friendly article, but the title says it all. Earlier this month, Businessweek published an article about how the same trial lawyers, who got rich extorting money from my former employer are now going after food companies.
This is a serious issue, and brings to light one of the reasons why the American economy is struggling to grow. A legal environment that is designed to extort money from industry.
The American legal system is unique in that anybody can file a frivolous lawsuit against nearly anybody else without any consequences. In most countries, the legal system requires that the loser pays the legal fees of the victor. This discourages lawsuits and encourages people with differences to submit them to arbitration. However, in this country, if a lawyer can find a friendly legal environment, he or she can file hundreds of lawsuits, or even lawsuits representing an entire class of people, with the anticipation of winning a hefty award, or at least a huge settlement. The cost of losing is negligible, so even a small chance of victory encourages litigation. Defendants in these lawsuits face a totally different calculus. First, they will be paying legal fees if they either win or lose. On top of that, there is always some chance that a jury would find against them and the cost could be bankrupting.
The trial bar plays off of these cost/probability differences and floods the courts with questionable lawsuits hoping to effectively extort money from different industries. This is exactly what a number of lawyers (many of whom are now members of the Tobacco Trial Lawyers’ Association) did when they filed class action claims against tobacco companies in places like a storefront Chancery Court in Mississippi.
Now, according to Businessweek, these same lawyers are filing dozens of class-action lawsuits against food processors. These claims are being filed in courts located in Northern California, where it is anticipated that health-conscious and anti-business juries might award steep judgments against companies that they claim used inexact language on their labels. For example, according to the article one company said that its products were a source of antioxidants, and is now being sued because the FDA does not define the word source in statute.
The class action roulette game would be a humorous aside were it not for the fact that it costs companies billions of dollars each year in extorted payments and legal fees. In fact, according to a recent study conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform the cost of tort liability in the US was 1.66 percent of GDP, more than double the Eurozone average of 0.63 percent. While there are a number of reasons for this, one reason for sure is the frivolous lawsuits against the food industry being promoted by the trial bar.
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