How Often Do Frivolous Lawsuits Actually Happen

ELI5: Negligence

Hint: it’s much less common than the media would have you thinking.


What Is a Frivolous Lawsuit?

When people talk about frivolous lawsuits, they’re normally talking about some ridiculous claim that shouldn’t have ever gone to court in the first place. Normally, people are quick to call out a frivolous lawsuit when a plaintiff appears to be looking for an opportunity to cash in on a payday and avoid personal responsibility. Here’s a rather famous example: one man actually attempted to sue Budwiser claiming that the commercials over-represented the beverage’s ability to transport consumers to tropical paradises and attract beautiful women, while underrepresenting alcohol’s damaging effects. However, the case was dismissed, as the negative effects of alcohol are well-known amongst consumers. This perpetuates the misconception that all  lawsuits are get-rich-quick opportunities for the slightly injured has spread like wildfire. However, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

How Are Judgments Really Calculated?

When claimants ask for financial compensation, they’re normally asking to be compensated for all of their injury-related expenses, both past and future. For the most part, injury related expenses can be divided into two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the total financial cost of the injury. Think of the emergency room, ambulance trip, hospital stay, physical therapy, loss of income, and more. If you can put a dollar amount on it, it’s likely an economic damage. Economic damages generally make up the bulk of a personal injury claim. Non-economic damages refer to items such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, inability to engage in certain physical activities, damage to your relationships due to your injuries, and more. These are items that cannot be assigned an objective monetary value.

Can’t Plaintiffs Spend the Money However They Want?

Unless a parent is suing on behalf of their child, the plaintiff is generally able to spend their settlement money or judgment on whatever they want. For most plaintiffs, this doesn’t mean fast cars, shiny jewelry, and lavish vacations. Since the settlement is based on the plaintiff’s injury related expenses, most of the settlement will go to pay the injured party’s medical bills, and other injury related expenses. In some cases, the plaintiff’s injury-related expenses may  actually exceed the policy limits of the insurance coverage the defendant has. In these cases, the plaintiff may be stuck with extra medical bills. If the defendant doesn’t have enough assets to pay the excess judgment (and they often do not), the plaintiff will have to pay for their remaining injury-related expenses themselves, or bring a claim against the defendant to collect against their personal assets.

What about Life-Changing Amounts of Money?

Those who have been injured don’t win $10 for economic damages and $3.5 million for emotional distress. When you see life-changing amounts of money, it’s usually because of life changing injuries. These life-changing injuries are often permanent, and cause a decidedly negative impact on a person’s ability to enjoy life. In some tragic cases, it’s because the injuries were fatal. The injuries that result in multi-million dollar lawsuits and settlements are so horrific that those who have sustained the injury would rather go back to the life they had before the injury, than have the injury and the money. Also, as previously mentioned, a large portion of that settlement or judgment will cover a plaintiff’s medical bills caused by the negligence of the defendant.

Why Don’t Frivolous Lawsuits Happen?

Going to court is expensive and risky for everyone involved: lawyers, plaintiff, and defendant. Personal injury attorneys work on contingency, meaning that a portion of the settlement covers the  plaintiff’s legal fees. Normally, in personal injury cases, a plaintiff doesn’t pay anything upfront. Instead, a pre-negotiated portion of the settlement or judgment covers the legal fees if the plaintiff wins. If the plaintiff loses their case at trial, they don’t have to pay the attorney anything. That’s working on contingency. Since personal injury attorneys generally work on contingency, they don’t want to take chances with a case that wouldn’t hold up in court. Furthermore, if the plaintiff loses, they could be forced to pay the defendant’s legal fees if the defendant can prove that the claim was filed in bad faith. Because of this, Plaintiff’s attorneys aren’t usually rushing to file a lawsuit on a claim they don’t think they can win.

There’s More to the Story…

The McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit is often considered by the general public to be the king of frivolous lawsuits. After all, isn’t hot coffee, y’know, obviously hot? Well, yes. However, McDonald’s hot coffee wasn’t just hot; it was nearly 200 degrees fahrenheit and hot enough to cause third degree burns in a matter of seconds. The woman who was burned suffered third degree burns to her genitals, and needed emergency medical attention and extensive surgery. Not only was the coffee way hotter than any reasonable person would suppose, McDonalds had knowledge that their coffee was way too hot (they had already received several complaints) and they still continued to serve their coffee at scorching temperatures. Even though some lawsuits sound ridiculous, most frivolous lawsuits don’t make it past a good attorney. In this case, the plaintiff was awarded money by the jury, and anytime a judge hears someone reference this case as the example of a “frivolous lawsuit”- they will quickly be dismissed from being a potential juror, because it means they’ve made up their minds without knowing all the facts. This case was anything but frivolous.

When You’ve Been Injured

At Moxie Law Group, our firm is dedicated to helping our clients win the compensation they need in order to recover from the injuries they’ve sustained. If you’re ready to file your claim, contact Moxie Law Group today for a free consultation.

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