I have an anecdotal question about the legal culture in Canada that is based on a personal observation of mine and may not be answerable here definitively. But here goes:

Last summer my family and I took a two week road trip all over western Canada, visiting Victoria, Edmonton, and lots of stops along the way. I noticed during our trip that practically every hotel we stayed at had a pool with a water slide. Some of these water slides were very high; being two and three stories tall even.

I've worked in the hospitality industry before, and I know that -- in America at least -- very few hotels have water slides because they are an insurance nightmare for the property. If you own a hotel with a water slide in the US, you pay through the nose for insurance because it's practically a given that at some point, there will be an accident, someone will get hurt, and you will likely get sued over it regardless of whose fault it may have been. That's why the few that do have water slides have limited hours and charge you extra to use it. The slides always empty into a special pool or at least a roped-off area in the main pool that is off-limits to regular swimmers. There is usually a lifeguard posted to shoo people toward the exit so that the pool is clear for the next rider. There are also signs everywhere warning swimmers about how dangerous it can be. This is just the kind of thing Americans expect to see at a water park.

What was peculiar to me is that the slides I encountered in Canada generally just emptied right into the main pool where other people are swimming. There were no lifeguards, few warning signs, and they were free to use as long as the pool was open. I used them a few times and you come out of them pretty fast. Very fun, but I thought it was strange that it was entirely up to me and my wife to keep our kids away from the slide so they didn't get hit by people coming down (which I'm fine with by the way -- it's called parenting and I'm totally OK with that).

My point is that it's a common criticism in America that we are a sue-happy country where we just expect that there will be a lawsuit when somebody gets hurt, whereas in Canada I got the distinct impression that people are fully expected to take their own personal responsibility to not be stupid around the water slide.

Is this impression correct? Are Canadians less litigious than Americans are? If so, why? Or am I just off-base in my observation?

1 Answer 1


No, but the USA is special!

In COMPARATIVE LITIGATION RATES from HARVARD, JOHN M. OLIN CENTER FOR LAW, ECONOMICS, AND BUSINESS, the authors J. Mark Ramseyer & Eric B. Rasmusen argue that for routine normal cases, the US is no more or less litigious than anywhere else in the developed world, specifically, they make comparisons with Australia, Canada, France, Japan and the UK.

However, they do say:

Why, then, the American notoriety? It does not result from the way the legal system handles routine disputes. Instead, it derives from the peculiarly dysfunctional way courts handle several discrete types of disputes. In several discrete areas, American courts function in a manner one can only describe as disastrous.

American courts have made the bad name for themselves by mishandling a few peculiar categories of law suits. In this article, we use securities class actions and mass torts to illustrate the phenomenon, but anyone who reads a newspaper could suggest alternatives.

This strange and peculiarly American phenomena of courts making huge payouts for a small number of cases skews perception of risk and leads to, for example, US hotels dismantling water slides.

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    Interesting. So the U.S. is not more "litigious" than elsewhere; it's just that the "lottery-like nature of the awards makes it more dangerous to lose.
    – Libra
    Jun 9, 2017 at 9:05
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    To save us having to read a 44-page paper, could you provide some more detail? :-) Jun 9, 2017 at 13:52
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    Another huge factor is that Canada has universal health care while the U.S. does not. So, accident victims in the U.S. have huge medical bills that somebody needs to pay and those medical bills also tend to anchor the size of pain and suffering awards (and in the U.S. insurance covered medical bills are still recoverable in lawsuits). In contrast, everywhere else in the world that has universal health care, the medical bills are negligible, so there is simply much less at stake economically in otherwise comparable accident lawsuits in Canada or most other countries, than in the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 9, 2017 at 18:52
  • I miss Japan. Things were more stable when I lived there. (Altogether though, the pros and cons between it and the US probably evened out for the average individual.)
    – user8913
    Aug 3, 2021 at 14:02
  • It should also be noted that those huge payouts are often not even real - a jury will award some large amount of money (e.g. $2.7 million in the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit) which will be immediately reduced by the judge (to $640,000 in that case), but the media will report the big number as if it means something (and will conveniently fail to mention other relevant details, such as Ms. Liebeck's debilitating third-degree burns and the prior history of other people being burned by hot coffee, in that case).
    – Kevin
    Sep 5, 2022 at 22:47

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