We’ve all heard the term “frivolous lawsuit” bandied about by those who believe no one should have the right to sue for any reason whatsoever. Whether they like it or not, victims of personal injury, medical malpractice, identity theft, and fraud have the right to sue for damages — especially when the people responsible knew what they were doing was wrong. That doesn’t mean every lawsuit has merit, though. What is frivolous litigation, what are the consequences for those behind it, and how can we prevent these lawsuits?
Can you sue anyone for any reason? Many people believe the answer is “yes” — after all, the United States of America is known for litigation if nothing else — and while that’s technically true, it’s difficult for plaintiffs to build a case out of thin air. Why? Well, first and foremost, good lawyers will only take cases they can win — and certainly they won’t wager their reputations on a bad or frivolous case when their reputations are what make them money in the first place.
What is a frivolous lawsuit? There are many examples. Here’s a classic: The future plaintiff enters a retail establishment, and pretends to slip, trip, or hurt themselves without cause. The lawsuit ensues.
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the definition of a frivolous claim “refers to a lawsuit, motion or appeal that is intended to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition.”
Legal claims are considered frivolous when they lack either a foundation in legal theory or “true” facts.
California has a reputation for shady lawyers guilty of frivolous litigation, but maybe not for long. Judges have begun to crack down on the practice to reduce courtroom traffic and the costs incurred by businesses operating in good faith. One Los Angeles, California judge imposed an awe-inspiring $1.5 million fine on two lawyers and their client for trying to sidestep the law to build a frivolous case against a Buena Park roofing insulation manufacturer and installer. The product-liability lawsuit backfired, you might say.
Fines are the biggest remedy to frivolous litigation, but unfortunately they’re rare. The victims of frivolous claims can countersue. These suits are easiest to win when the facts of the plaintiffs’ case have already been established as false — because that means the defendants can countersue for the world’s easiest defamation case.
Lawyers aren’t the only ones responsible for frivolous litigation. Law enforcement officials have been found guilty of charging individuals with the intent to harm or harass, and prosecutors have been fined for pressing charges that have no merit. In these cases, individual victims have the right to sue them the same as they might sue anyone else.
Those guilty of frivolous litigation should also realize that losing these types of cases has a cost. The people you sued for no reason have the right to request the court impose restitution of legal fees associated with a defense they never should have had to make. Lawyers are expensive.