What’s a Frivolous Lawsuit?

What's a Frivolous Lawsuit?

A large number of personal injury lawsuits filed involve legitimate claims. Those cases are the outcome of honest disagreements. But on the other side, a handful of lawsuits are patently baseless. Technically we call these cases Frivolous lawsuits. A frivolous suit is a kind of lawsuit without any legal merit. In some cases, a few individuals or companies file lawsuits to harass, annoy, or disturb the defendants and opposite parties. It could be defined as any lawsuit where the plaintiff knows that it is almost little or no chance of the lawsuit succeeding if pursued in court.

In most cases, there are two purposes for filing frivolous lawsuits. The first one is to harass the defendant. In a few cases, the intentions are to generate media attention.

Being sued is incredibly frustrating for anyone. Even if the case is baseless, the defendant has to expend time, energy, and money to have the case dismissed. And there is something more. The defendant’s reputation might be corroded. Are you wondering how can that happen? If people hear about the lawsuit against him or her they may think negatively about them. They might assume the allegation is legitimate. For these reasons, frivolous lawsuits are often used by plaintiffs as a way to harass others. In some other cases, lawsuits are a means of generating media attention. Generally, there are advocates who file such lawsuits to generate buzz and bring attention to an issue.

Real-life Examples of Frivolous Lawsuits

Overton v. Anheuser-Busch Co., Michigan Court of Appeals (1993)

In the year 1993, Richard Overton arraigned Anheuser-Busch for false advertising. He drank a 6-pack of Bud Light. But the beer failed to create visions of beautiful women on a beach. That’s what he saw in the advertisement. Richard sought nearly $10,000 in damages. He claimed Bud Light’s deceptive marketing caused him emotional distress. The trial court rejected the frivolous lawsuit.

Rosenberg v. Google Co., Utah District Court (2009)

In the year 2009, Lauren Rosenberg sued Google for nearly $100,000. She claimed that Google Maps advised her to walk along a freeway to reach her destination. While following the direction, a car hit Rosenberg. In her petition, Rosenberg mentioned the direction advised by Google Maps was not only wrong but also dangerous. The district court granted Google’s motion to dismiss the frivolous lawsuit. 

Pearson v. Chung, Superior Court of the District of Columbia (2005)

Roy Pearson took two pairs of pants to a dry cleaner for alterations. The cleaner mistakenly sent the pants to the wrong location. The pants were recovered quickly. It was then returned to the owner. But Pearson claimed the pants didn’t belong to him. He sued the owners of the dry cleaner for $67 million. It was even more bizarre because Pearson was an administrative law judge at the time of the case. The superior court judge ruled in favor of the dry cleaner.

Now, let’s take the most famous example of a “frivolous lawsuit.” The interesting part here is that this case was not frivolous at all. For instance, look at the case below.

The 1994 McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit

It is this case that had given rise to a lot of attacks or criticisms towards ‘frivolous lawsuits’ in the United States. The widely-known product liability case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants took place in 1994. A 74-year-old Stella Liebeck had sued McDonald’s after spilling a cup of takeaway hot coffee in her lap. For people who did not hear anything more about the case, they chalked the lawsuit up as another example of out-of-control litigation. The most typical reactions were that coffee is normally served hot and that it was not the fault of the restaurant that she had spilled it on her lap and that she was driving then.

There was a lot more to the case. Stella shad sustained incredibly gruesome third-degree burns on her legs, lap, and groin. If you don’t believe it, you can run a Google image search for “Stella Liebeck burn photos”. Her injuries were anything but frivolous. The coffee had burnt her skin in seconds. Not only that, she was neither driving nor careless while spilling it. Rather the coffee was not only just hot but dangerously hot that could have led to such accidents. 

Also, it has to be borne in mind that this incident with the McDonald was not one case in point. McDonald’s had already received over 700 complaints about their scalding hot coffee before this particular occasion, but they decided to continue serving their coffee more than 40 degrees higher than most restaurants. Originally, Liebeck sought $20,000 in damages. McDonald’s refused to settle out of court. Ultimately, the jury awarded Stella $2.7 million in damages. Both McDonalds and Liebeck too reached an out of court settlement to rest the matter.

What Does it Mean?

A frivolous lawsuit means when a person files a false product liability claim against a company. This can cause a tremendous amount of waste for the company costing their reputation as well. The company then has to conduct its investigations into the claim and report their findings in the court. The reasons behind filing frivolous lawsuits are often petty and hence it becomes difficult at times to distinguish between authentic claims and those triggered by personal motivations.

There are lawsuits filed simply for instances such as the person being unsatisfied with a product, or a person holding a personal grudge against a particular person/another citizen or any particular company. Another reason why frivolous lawsuits may be filed is to delay another case of legal proceeding. For instance, some real estate actions cannot proceed if that person is involved in a lawsuit at the time. Thus, the person might file a frivolous lawsuit simply to delay the upcoming real estate proceeding. Other common frivolous lawsuits include harassment lawsuits and false sexual harassment claims.

How do I understand whether my Lawsuit is Frivolous?

A frivolous lawsuit normally is a claim, suit, motion, or appeal that lacks a legal basis or a basis on the merits. Many times, frivolous lawsuits are used by attorneys to delay an outcome, harass, or to embarrass the opposing party. Typically, courts find that a claim or defense is frivolous when it conflicts with a judicially noticeable fact or it seems logically impossible.

The Supreme Court has defined what a frivolous lawsuit is. The court said in the Denton v. Hernandez that a frivolous case means that the claim is either irrational or meritless. The Court mentioned that judges should be conservative when punishing lawyers for frivolous claims, as it may have a chilling effect on creative lawyering and new ways to solve legal issues. The Court held that some allegations may be “strange but true,” and hence, dismissals of frivolous litigation should be used moderately.

What are the consequences of filing a frivolous lawsuit? Are there any?

There are consequences of filing frivolous cases. One of the reasons being that most courts are overwhelmed by millions of legitimate lawsuits. This is why judges find it particularly frustrating when a frivolous lawsuit is filed. Fortunately, judges have the authority to sanction lawyers and fine complainants who file frivolous lawsuits. What’s more, a defendant in a frivolous lawsuit can turn around and sue the plaintiff for malicious prosecution. A claim for malicious prosecution is a tort action. And the damages include the costs of having to defend against the baseless lawsuit.

How should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Frivolous Lawsuit Issues?

This is important for any establishment to be aware of. If you believe that someone has filed a frivolous lawsuit against you, you definitely should hire a qualified personal injury lawyer for advice and representation. Your attorney should be well qualified to defend you and should have the experience to be able to identify whether a claim is frivolous. The person should be able to guide you on how to respond to such a claim. 

In case, there’s no option other than to move forward with further legal action, your attorney can represent you in court. So choose and hire your lawyer after examining carefully his or her records, experiences, and fame to zero down on someone particular, who can represent you well in a court of law.

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