Finally! Judge steps in to punish frivolous lawsuit

Scales of JusticeA U.S. judge has overturned a jury verdict and ordered the attorneys who filed the suit to pay the court costs and fees of the opposing attorneys. His reason: the suit itself was frivolous and without merit. The story is reported in today’s Denver Post.

U.S. District Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch said the case had been filed to stifle competition, rather than protect a patent. The penalty he imposed could run to several million dollars.

It’s about time somebody stood up against the wave of frivolous lawsuits that has been sweeping the country for more than a decade. In today’s litigious society, too many people try to strike it rich by suing someone else. They see it as an easy way to make some money from someone wealthier than they are. The attorneys who take such cases do so not because the cases have any merit but simply because they earn commissions if they win. The worst of these attorneys will actually encourage the filing of lawsuits: “Let Mike ‘The Shark’ Malone get you the money you deserve!”

Yes, people have the right to sue. Many of them do indeed deserve compensation. And yes, attorneys have the right to ply their trade and file lawsuits. But there should be a way to stop the cases that are simply trying to exploit the system for unwarranted personal gain.

Frivolous lawsuits cost you money every day. Your doctor has to carry more insurance to protect against such suits, and his higher costs get passed on to you through higher fees. Any corporation that might be sued for any reason carries insurance for that risk, and they pass their costs on to you through higher-priced products or services. The man who fixes your car or sells you a ladder has to charge you more because he’s having to pay for insurance in case you sue him. Even if you never sue anyone, you’re paying more because other people do.

If any of these entities can no longer afford their ever-increasing insurance premiums, they may cut back on their riskier operations or go out of business altogether. One example is the obstetrician-gynecologist who stops doing obstetrics because delivering babies is too risky and their malpractice insurance is getting too expensive. Parents who don’t get a perfect baby may conclude, rightly or wrongly, that it is the doctor’s fault and file a lawsuit. (Besides, the doctor is rich and has plenty of insurance, right?) Conceivably we could end up with no doctors at all willing to deliver babies.

The missing playground equipment that your kids used to enjoy? The school was probably trying to reduce its exposure to injury lawsuits. Your increasing auto insurance rates? Those are partly the result of lawsuits won against your insurance company.

There is no easy solution to the problem of frivolous lawsuits. The causes and effects are circular and intricately interwoven. Kudos to Judge Matsch for taking a stand in this case and not letting the plaintiffs game the system. Maybe he’ll start a trend.

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