The Facts About Frivolous Lawsuits


Does the Media Accurately Portray "Crazy Lawsuits?"

It's not uncommon for the media to report on one of the newest "crazy lawsuits" going on at the moment. The presentation of these stories is typically the same: the narrator may have skeptical tone as they read details about the case, or there could even be lighthearted music playing in the background. While the media has a tendency to be very cynical about lawsuits of this nature, they may not be giving their viewers all of the facts about these cases.

They're often called "crazy lawsuits" but in the legal world, they are referred to as "frivolous litigation." Frivolous litigation is the practice of starting or carrying on lawsuits that have little to no chance of winning. After hearing about all of the frivolous lawsuits out there, it may seem like many people are trying to take advantage of our legal system for their personal gain. But in reality, frivolous lawsuits are pretty rare, and they usually never make it to a courtroom.

The legal world takes frivolous litigation extremely seriously. Many people are not aware that sanctions (penalties) can be imposed by a court upon the client or the lawyer who presents the frivolous defense or claim. The law firm may also be sanctioned, or even held in contempt. A credible attorney would not risk their legal career over a case that had no factual basis for a claim. The media may make it seem like frivolous lawsuits happen all the time, but if a lawsuit is truly unfounded, it is either immediately "thrown out" by a judge or no attorney would even take the case in the first place.

Furthermore, the media may make a case seem unfounded or lighthearted when it is actually quite a serious matter. For instance, the infamous "Hot Coffee" case (formally known as Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants) is an example of this. This product liability lawsuit garnered a great amount of media attention as a frivolous lawsuit, but again, not all of the facts of the case were reported. Many never knew that the 79-year-old plaintiff, Stella Liebeck, was hospitalized for eight days while she underwent skin grafting after spilling scalding hot McDonald's coffee on her pelvic region. She suffered third-degree burns and lost nearly 20% of her body weight during her hospital stay. Then, she had to undergo two more years of extensive medical treatment to recover from the incident. To learn more about this case, check out the recently filmed HBO documentary, "Hot Coffee."

Our legal system was created to ensure that justice is served to all, so if a case is unfounded or unjust, it will not be able to stand up in a court of law.

Sources: “Frivolous Litigation.” June 2, 2014.
“Hot Coffee.” June 2, 2014.