Abraham Lincoln had this to say about frivolous lawsuits: “Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this.” I agree.
I agree with Lincoln that we should never “stir up” litigation, for many reasons, the main one being that “creating” litigation is simply the wrong thing to do, it is harmful to the client, and it creates ill-will and distrust in the world and within the legal profession. But I also agree with Lincoln for completely selfish reasons: it does not lead to good results and it can easily destroy a person’s law practice. Reports of the filing of frivolous lawsuits are greatly exaggerated.
Filing a lawsuit you believe to be frivolous or even weak is a terrible thing for everyone involved: the client most importantly, but also for the defendant, and for the reputation of the bar, and for the lawyer bringing the weak lawsuit.
Most of you know about the concept of frivolous lawsuits. Many corporations, defense lawyers, pro-business politicians, and critics of personal injury law refer to personal injury lawyers as “ambulance chasers.” It suggests a half-crazed army of greed-drunk lawyers who chase down any lead to find a new case; it also implies a group of attorneys who will file a lawsuit no matter how weak is the evidence.
I still recall the painful scene in The Rainmaker when Danny DeVito brazenly storms into the hospital and carefully wedges his business card through the fingers of the poor guy whose arm is in a cast and suspended in mid-air. I must say, it was a comical and hilarious scene.
The Battle for Public Opinion
Major corporations and critics of injury lawsuits have mostly won the battle for public opinion with respect to personal injury law. I have had so many unfairly injured clients call me and say, “I have never sued anyone before. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not greedy. I hate ambulance chasers . . . .” Somehow they have come to understand that anyone who sues another person or another company must be immoral, money-hungry, and flawed. It is astonishing, and it is false.
Companies Make Terrible Mistakes
People make mistakes. Good doctors occasionally have very bad days. Sometimes the doctor’s bad day leads to a severe injury for a patient. Corporations do not set out to harm customers with poorly-designed medical devices or dangerous drugs. But sometimes companies rush a product to market, a bit too eager to make billions of dollars on the latest metal-on-metal hip, or artificial knee, or transvaginal mesh, or prescription medication, and those products turn out to be unreasonably dangerous, and cause problems for hundreds or even thousands of patients. The cases that are filed because of the harm done from these flawed products are not frivolous lawsuits. And no plaintiff in these cases owes an apology to anyone for bringing these valid claims.
Frivolous Lawsuits Can Quickly Destroy a Law Practice
But here is the strongest argument against the position that frivolous lawsuits are a rampant problem in our legal system: a frivolous lawsuit can absolutely destroy an attorney’s law practice. Nothing will send a lawyer to bankruptcy faster than bringing one or more frivolous or weak lawsuits against a multi-billion dollar corporation or against a well-financed and well-defended surgeon. The lawsuits can take years to try, and can cost thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs alone. And when the frivolous case is finally lost the plaintiff’s firm could well be crippled or out of business altogether. Therefore, most personal injury lawyers I know are extremely cautious in filing each and every case. If the evidence does not support a winning result, the plaintiff’s lawyer should not bring the case. And almost always doesn’t.
Flawed Products Hurt People
Sadly though, companies too often market products that are inadequately tested, defectively designed, negligently manufactured, and/or flawed in some other significant way. And these products have caused horrific pain and suffering to thousands and thousands of innocent people. Some of these victims need multiple revision surgeries; others suffer heart attacks or stroke, or worse. I am very proud to represent these people.
Abraham Lincoln was exactly right: a lawyer should never “stir up litigation.” A frivolous lawsuit is a terrible thing for everyone involved. Yes, some lawyers are not competent and don’t realize certain cases are frivolous or weak; and yes, occasionally unethical lawyers will bring lawsuits they know to be frivolous, presumably in the hope of arranging a quick settlement with a company which does not want to defend itself in lengthy litigation. But the steady financial pressures on personal injury lawyers make bringing and litigating a weak case a terrible idea, and most PI lawyers run from such cases.