By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
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.
The stats you provide are relative. Whether it’s % of jury trials, jury verdicts or cases filed. I would argue that if those stats were low enough to the “crisis” to be over, then why are insurance rates so high? Simple laws of supply and demand here.
A poll of judges? I’d argue that 100% of Judges like their power and ability to rule in these cases. They think that THEY can determine if their own cases are worthwhile and don’t want the legislature getting in their way.
And no offense intended, you are arguing this all from your position as a defense attorney who stands to gain from lawsuits with less legislation.
I posted a link to this article on Facebook. This is a well written article which speaks the truth in the face of more political spin and grandstanding.
The article is right on. I’ve worked in the personal injury litigation on both sides for the last 25 years. Some of the stats and facts he quotes are what I’ve experienced in my practice.
Responses to Mr. Wert: Jeremy is a “criminal” defense attorney, so he does not gain from lawsuits. His business comes from the State of Texas prosecuting his clients, not from Plaintiff’s attorneys suing his clients.
As for the insurance premiums not getting lower… Really, have you ever seen insurance premiums get lower? And just who do you think benefits from the perception that there is a frivolous lawsuit crisis? Insurers want people to believe that such a thing exists as a pretext to raising rates and demanding “tort reform” litigation.
Excellent article. It always bothers me when I see people so willing to throw our legal rights out the window. People who will fight tooth and nail to keep our elected government from encroaching in their lives will let big business step all over them. Btw check out the documentary Hot Coffee and you might change your mind on that McDonald’s lawsuit. I did.
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