CAUTION: Frivolous Lawsuit “Crisis” Ended Years Ago

May 12, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

Today, I’m taking a quick break from criminal law to address what I perceive to be a gross public misconception about lawsuits and our system of civil justice.

No one likes lawsuits.  They suck.  They’re accusatory, unpleasant, and they bring out the worst in us.

And EVERYONE will tell you there are way too many frivolous lawsuits these days.  They constantly menace our imaginations and live in the back of our minds just like the monster that lives under the bed.

But here’s the problem.  Just like the monster under the bed… no one has actually seen a frivolous lawsuit themselves.  I mean… I’m a lawyer… and I’ve seen lawsuits where the Plaintiff lost… but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a case where a lawyer got sanctioned for filing a completely base-less case.  On occasion, I’ll see bad lawsuits filed by pro-se people — but those are generally swatted away by the courts like flies.

Sure, most of us know someone that knows someone who got sued once… and according to the one side of the story that was passed down — it sure sounded ridiculous!  We’ve all gotten the funny emails about terrible lawsuits and of course who can forget the 1992 McDonald’s hot coffee case!

Did I just say 1992?  19 years ago… is this some sort of joke?  Wasn’t Vanilla Ice still cool back then?

Anytime I do a civil case, I have a running bet with some of my lawyer friends that regardless of what side of the case I’m on, a prospective juror will mention the McDonald’s case without me bringing it up.  I’ve never lost.

But anyways, people still believe there is an alternate universe where tons of frivolous lawsuits are filed and there are also tons of dopes that fall for these cases when they have jury duty.  Fortunately, though, they themselves know in their heart that they can’t be tricked by some junk lawsuit.  The same way advertising may work on you and me… but not them!

The truth is that jurors hate lawsuits with a passion.  I know.  I’ve seen it again and again.

So here are some statistics which are like kryptonite for anyone still convinced our system is flooded by lawsuit abuse (you can read the sources here and here):

— Only 10% of injured Americans make informal demands or file claims.  Only 2% actually file lawsuits.

— Less than 10% of people injured by medical malpractice file lawsuits.

— Personal injury lawsuits decreased by 21% between 1995 and 2005 despite a growing population in 30 states.

— Personal injury lawsuits consisted of only 1.3% of all civil dispositions in 2005 in 104 reporting counties.

— Jury trials in personal injury cases decreased by 51.8% between 1992 and 2005 in the 75 most populated counties in the country.

— A survey of Texas Judges in 2005 showed that 86% felt like there was no additional legislation needed to lessen lawsuits;

— Jury verdicts have declined by approximately 40.3% in the 75 most populous counties in America between 1992 and 2005 after being adjusted for inflation;

— In 2007, 83% of Texas State Judges responding to a survey reported that they had never had to exercise a provision which reduced a Plaintiff’s jury verdict due to being excessive;

— Multiple Courts in North Central Texas report that they have had either one or no civil jury trials as of May of this year;

I could keep going but why?  Also, in case you didn’t know:

— There are rules already in place which allow a judge to dismiss an inappropriate case before trial;

— There are rules already in place which allow a judge to sanction lawyers for frivolous pleadings;

— The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that if a lawyer files pleadings that are untrue and fraudulent, that attorney can be prosecuted for a felony offense;

— There are rules which prohibit lawsuits by “vexatious litigants.”

Also, don’t look now, but the Texas Legislature is about to pass yet even more tort reform legislation.  You know.  Because frivolous lawsuits are a problem.  Didn’t you hear about the lady that sued McDonalds?

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.