Posted by Mark BelloAugust 31, 2011 12:31 PM
One of the catch phrases of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and tort reform groups is “frivolous lawsuits” – a lawsuit that has no legal basis, or is so petty, that suit isn’t justified. Unfortunately, more often than not, these pro-business, billion dollar corporate lobbying groups are claiming “lawsuit abuse” when they know the cases they seek to place restriction upon are anything but frivolous. Common sense will tell you, for example, that a “frivolous case” does not need a damages cap.
Today, I read about a case that illustrates what the system does with truly “frivolous” cases; I thought I would share it with you so that, hopefully, you can see the difference between what the tort reform groups are trying to regulate and a real “frivolous” case. The case I refer to involves an Illinois woman who was sued by her two adult children. The children alleged she was a “bad” mom. Their parents were divorced and the children lived with their dad in a $1.5 million home. They claimed their mother failed to send money inside their birthday cards, called her daughter home early from homecoming, and threatened to call the police on her son, then 7, if he didn’t buckle up in the car. The children sought $50,000 for emotional distress. The children’s lawyer was the woman’s ex-husband, the children’s father. The case was dismissed by a circuit court; the kids appealed. Last week, an Illinois appellate court ruled that the Circuit Court was correct in dismissing the case.
If the Chamber decided to lambast the filing of this case, I would agree with them. However, the Chamber would go too far in its criticism; the pro-business, anti-justice organizations would lie and say that a case like this is why the system needs to be reform and why we need damages caps and limited access to the civil justice system. But, let’s look at how the civil justice system handled this “frivolous” case.
The civil justice system has mechanisms in place to prevent and dismiss “frivolous” lawsuits, and mechanisms to punish those who bring them. The circuit court judge, who first heard the case, dismissed it without much consideration. The appeals court panel that reviewed the dismissal upheld that dismissal. Still to be determined is whether the plaintiff will be forced to pay court costs and attorney fees, a “frivolous” filing penalty that judges have discretion to assess.
The typical frivolous case ends with serious consequences to the lawyer and the plaintiff who brought it; the plaintiff who files suit, most often, loses and is assessed costs. The system built in these checks and balances so courts and juries will not waste time on meritless cases. Anyone can file a lawsuit, but the real question is whether the litigation has enough merit to sustain itself. If it doesn’t, as in this case, it will be dismissed and it will never see an impaneled jury. So, ask yourself why tort reform lobbying groups are seeking damages caps to combat “frivolous lawsuits”. Obviously, it is because they don’t want to tell you the truth. The truth? These pro-business lobbyists and public relations manipulators want to place damages caps on serious lawsuits, those with serious consequences, the ones that actually impact the profits of billion dollar corporations. The use of the buzz word “frivolous” is a smoke screen. They are masters at manipulating the truth to their greedy end.
So, now you know. The civil justice system already has checks and balances to eliminate “frivolous” cases. There is no need for “tort reform” to root them out. I blog, frequently, about this issue because I can’t stand the injustice of it. I can’t stand to see politicians, who I used to respect, taking campaign money from these billion dollar organizations knowing that the premise of tort reform is based upon lies and deceit, then introducing or voting for legislation that seriously hurts innocent citizens. Afterwards, these despicable politicians brag about their bills or their votes; they campaign on them, as if they actually accomplished something “good” for America. I can’t stand that they think it is “good” to beat up on the weak and powerless. I can’t stand to see seriously injured or disabled people left to fend for themselves because billion dollar corporations responsible for their injuries have bought off state or federal politicians. I can’t stand it because I know, first hand, that tort reform does nothing to curb “abuse” or “frivolity”; reform only restricts access and damages in serious cases with serious issues and serious injuries to real victims. I just can’t stand it!
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.