Settling baseless lawsuits only encourages more of them

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 1, 2013

Famed social scientist James Q. Wilson died just shy of a year ago. One of his greatest contributions to the world he left behind is the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement: the idea that communities should concentrate on the small breakdowns in civil order and correct them before they escalate into worse problems.

Wilson believed that a single, seemingly insignificant instance of neglect, such as a property owner’s failure to replace a broken window promptly, could have the effect of encouraging apathy and provoking antisocial behavior.

Leave the window unrepaired and the next thing you know there’ll be graffiti on walls and abandoned cars on the street, then winos, drug pushers, muggers and more.

It was a provocative theory, but was it right?

When Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton implemented Wilson’s concept in New York City in the 1990s, violent crime plummeted and one of the most dangerous cities in America became one of the safest.

It makes you wonder what might happen if all the big companies targeted for shakedowns by shysters would fight back instead of rolling over.

Sure, it’s less time-consuming, less risky and generally less expensive to knuckle under, but doesn’t that just encourage more baseless lawsuits to be filed in anticipation of easy income? Wouldn’t it be better, in the long run, to fix this “broken window” before we start seeing worse breakdowns in our legal system?

To their immense credit, the principals at CSX Transportation spent several years and millions of dollars defending their company against fraudulent lawsuits filed by Pittsburgh attorney Robert Peirce.

Late last year, CSX won its fraud case against Peirce, et al. The company is now asking the court to order the defendants to pay its attorneys fees of more than $9 million.

We hope the court does just that. Then, maybe other companies will be emboldened to fight back and our country will become a safer place to do business.

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