Strategic Vs. Tactical Victory

This is a strategy that I think makes a lot of sense (via Overlawyered)

Vowing no longer to be Mister Nice City (assuming it ever qualified as such), Chicago is now willing to pay $50,000 to fight (successfully) a police-misconduct case it could have settled for $10,000:

Even though the city stands to lose money litigating every case under $100,000, a spokeswoman for the law department said that recently compiled figures showed the strategy seemed to be saving taxpayer money by dissuading lawyers from suing the police unless they are confident of victory.

I used to work for Emerson Electric, a company that amongst its divisions made both ladders and table saws, two sure-fire litigation magnets.  We got ladder suits, for example, from some guy who propped the base of the ladder up on 6 stacked paint cans and then leaned the top of the ladder on some high voltage lines, all during a hurricane and got hurt, and immediately sued the ladder manufacturer for making a defective product.

Emerson decided early on it was going to be a hard target.  It hired in-house legal staff and fought nearly every single suit all the way to court if necessary.  If attorneys had a good case of a real defect or negligence, fine, they could win their day in court.  However, if they were looking for a quick percentage of a settlement, they needed to look elsewhere.  Turned out there were a lot of the latter.


  1. Uncle Bill:

    I got talking to an attorney at my former company one day, and the subject of sex-discrimination lawsuits came up. He told me that the company made it a policy to fight every one. I asked how they had done, and he said that they had won 18 out of 19, up to that date (probably 10 years ago). I was impressed by three things: first, that they had decided to fight, second that they had won so many, and third that there were so few suits filed. He made it clear that this was not coincidental: the company was sending out the message that they would not be a soft target, and would not settle to save a few bucks. In the long run, it really paid off.

  2. morganovich:

    wal mart does this very successfully.

    it's the right plan.

  3. nicole:

    This would be nice, except the police are the last people I would want to dissuade anyone from suing.

  4. TomG:

    I totally agree with nicole. Before approvingly citing Chicago's tough stance on fighting police lawsuits, you might want to re-read most of Radley Balko's blog, particularly the articles about police breaking in to houses, police shooting and killing dogs that hadn't attacked them, and the over-reliance on tasers.
    Being tough on lawsuits is excellent for privately owned businesses. For taxpayer funded monopolists, not nearly so much.

  5. Eric Hammer:

    Government lawsuits are a really troubling issue to me. The government officials have nearly zero skin in the game, as they neither pay the settlement nor the legal costs. Effectively the citizens themselves end up paying the entire cost of the process no matter the outcome, with the government officials merely having the possibility of being fired one way or the other. The only good outcomes are a transfer of money from majority of citizens to the wronged parties (not necessarily bad mind you) and the possibility of legal precedent limiting government action. It seems to me there needs to be more direct liability to the organizations themselves, but I don't know how to get there.

  6. Dr. T:

    Emerson's strategy made sense because it wasn't selling flawed products.

    Chicago's strategy makes no sense because too many of its policemen have behaved abusively towards suspects (and sometimes bystanders). Instead of spending money on lawyers to discourage the victims of abusive cops from seeking monetary compensation, Chicago should spend money fighting the police union so that it can fire the bad cops.

  7. Richard:

    There is a difference between "making sense" and "doing right". It makes sense if it saves them money, regardless of how corrupt their force is. It may not be right, but it makes sense.