On Frivolous Lawsuits

19 June 2018

We’ve all heard about them – frivolous lawsuits – that are allegedly plaguing the courts, bedeviling the civil justice system, making jurors skeptical.

First, let’s be clear:  The fact that a lawsuit is lost does NOT mean that the case was frivolous. Lawsuits are adversarial, meaning that when a case goes to trial, one side wins and the other sides loses, based upon the the jury’s decision of right and wrong. So the fact that someone loses a lawsuit does not mean that the case was frivolous; only that the jury disagreed with one side of the other.  No, the term “frivolous cases” means something crazy, or something with no legal merit, something that is not legally justifiable.

But there’s sort of a problem with the whole concept of frivolous lawsuits, in the realm of tort law – they simply don’t make sense.  There are two reasons why:

First, in a tort case lawyers are paid on a contingent fee.  That means they only get paid out of the money that is collected from the wrongdoer.  So, why would a lawyer file a frivolous lawsuit?  How does it make any sense for a lawyer to file a case that he or she knows will be lost? There will be no fee.

Second, judges have the power to throw frivolous cases out of court, well before trial.

So, in tort law, at least, frivolous cases shouldn’t really be a problem.  And even cases that people think might be frivolous, like Liebeck v. McDonalds (the hot coffee case), turn out to be good cases, where the lawsuit was NOT frivolous, and the jury system worked just exactly the way it should have.

And yet – Everyone knows (or think they know) about frivolous cases; and this widespread, but erroneous belief has weakened our faith in our court system, and tort law, and the entire system of civil justice.  And sometimes lawsuits are filed that do seem frivolous.  But why?  What sense does it make?

Could it be a deliberate effort to undermine trust in our system of law?

One lawyer is trying to find out.  Florida Attorney John Uustal has issued a $100,000 reward for “the first person who provides proof that leads to a judgment finding that a lawsuit was filed in the last three months in the Southern District of Florida as a result of a corporate conspiracy to manufacture frivolous lawsuits.”

Uustal was recently interviewed by the corporate Crime Reporter, and had this to say:

A Florida trial attorney recently filed a consumer class action lawsuit against McDonald’s claiming that the burger giant was charging consumers the same amount for a quarter pounder as it charges for a quarter pounder with cheese.

To John Uustal, a fellow Florida trial lawyer, the case sounded like a frivolous lawsuit – the kind that corporate lobbyists use to mock and undermine the civil justice system. . . .

“Of course, every case deserves to be decided on the law and the evidence,” Uustal said. “But I look at some of these lawsuits, and I cannot imagine that they have any chance of success. When they fail, the lawyer will have lost plenty of time and money.”

“Why would any lawyer try to lose money?”

“We know that big corporate interests have successfully attacked the credibility of our civil justice system by highlighting frivolous lawsuits. They do it so they can eliminate truly righteous lawsuits.”

“It’s worth remembering that these righteous lawsuits are the only hope for justice against these powerful corporations when they knowingly decide to act in ways that kill people. …

“Frivolous lawsuits are poison. They not only create unfair costs for innocent defendants, they also allow powerful corporate interests to create a smoke screen to hide their truly despicable conduct.”

“When a frivolous lawsuit gets filed, that’s bad enough. But is there any possibility this is even worse?”

“Could an entire lawsuit be a scam? A scam to create more smoke for corporate lobbyists so they can destroy our rights to get justice against a manufacturer who knowingly and intentionally refuses to fix a defective product that kills, or against a bank that steals money from its customers?”

“Look at how the tort reform lobby is already using this new Quarter Pounder lawsuit. They’re perpetuating the idea that lawyers are shifty scammers. They are brainwashing us to think that lawsuits in general are frivolous.”

“Corporations point to suits like this to claim that the civil justice system must be ‘reformed.’ And they get laws passed that supposedly ‘reform’ the civil justice system but which, in reality, eliminate or limit righteous lawsuits.”

“Some people are wondering if there is a lawsuit scam, designed to further weaken the power of the people against wealthy corporations. It seems impossible to believe, but if it’s true, the public deserves to know.”

“If there’s any evidence at all, I don’t have it. But if it exists, I’d like to see it. So I’m offering, . . . up to $100,000 to the first person who brings me proof that leads to a judgment finding that a lawsuit filed within the last three months in the Southern District of Florida was a scam created in a corporate conspiracy to destroy our rights.”

“To be absolutely clear, this is the only way I can think to get evidence about the potential conspiracy that I have heard lawyers speculate about. I have no evidence that the conspiracy exists, and I am not implying that it does. Moreover, even if it exists, I can’t imagine that the recently filed McDonald’s case is a part of it.”

“But I feel that there is more than we yet know about the corporate strategy against frivolous lawsuits, and I want to find out whatever I can.”

“Think of poison ivy for a moment. It’s a plant, but we all know it’d be ridiculous to say that all plants are bad just because some few are poisonous. Lawsuits are like that. Some few are poison. But don’t be fooled. Lawsuits, like plants, are good. Without them, we’d be in big trouble. The courtroom is the only place in the world where the people hold powerful corporate interests to account.”

“So, don’t let those corporations fool you into thinking that lawsuits are the problem. Because if you get scammed like that, you’ll let them treat all lawsuits, even the most righteous ones, as frivolous.”

Florida Trial Lawyer Offers $100,000 Reward for Evidence That Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations

It is an interesting, and audacious move. And it’s certainly thought-provoking.  Could these worthless and frivolous lawsuits be part of a deliberate strategy to weaken and undermine trust in our system of law?  Perhaps Attorney Uustal’s strategy will pan out, and we can learn who or what is behind this smokescreen of frivolous lawsuits.

For more information (or to collect the reward) see:

To read the entire article about this, see 34 Corporate Crime Reporter 24(12), Monday June 11, 2018, (print edition only).