What Are Frivolous Lawsuits?
By Joseph Devine
In the United States in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of civil lawsuits that have been filed. In addition to the usual breach of contract and other suits, there has been a huge increase in the number of personal injury suits that have been filed. This increase has lead many to name the majority of suits “frivolous.”
Frivolous lawsuits, or frivolous litigation, as a term used in colloquial and political terms in the United States, are lawsuits that are based on a somewhat absurd theory or involve claims for damages that greatly exceed what one would think is possible from reading a brief summary of the case. Awards for medical malpractice lawsuits are sometimes mocked as being frivolous in that they are seen by the common public as being “excessive.”
The frivolous lawsuits of the world, even if they aren’t really frivolous, are one of the greatest arguments that proponents of tort reform have in their arsenal. Unfortunately, many of the supposedly “frivolous” lawsuits that are mocked by the proponents are not technically frivolous in legal terms, since both a jury and the judge decided in favor of the plaintiff. Unfortunately, the term has many applications and the legal definition is just one of them.
The courts in the United States typically define “frivolous” litigation as a legal claim or defense that is presented even though the party and the party’s legal counsel had reason to know that the claim or defense lacked merit completely. A claim or defense may be frivolous due to a lack of underlying justification in fact or because the claim or defense was not presented with an argument for a reasonable extension or reinterpretation of the law. The claim or defense may also be frivolous because there are laws in place that prohibit such a claim. An example would be a person trying to sue a Good Samaritan when the Samaritan was protected by law for rescuing the individual.
When a lawyer or attorney files a frivolous claim or defense, there are consequences attached. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and a variety of state rules require all attorneys to perform a due diligence investigation when determining the factual basis for any claim or defense.
If a person’s attorney or lawyer files a frivolous claim, jurisdictions differ as to whether the claim can truly be frivolous if the attorney acted in good faith. Truly frivolous claims and defenses waste the court’s time, the jury’s time, resources, and legal fees. Because of this, sanctions may be imposed by a court upon the party that makes a claim or defense that is frivolous.
Habush, Habush, & Rottier S.C. is a Milwaukee law firm dedicated to ensuring that all injured parties are compensated for their injuries.
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