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Published On: Tue, Aug 14th, 2018

The Truth About Frivolous Lawsuits: What You Need to Know

We’ve all been led to believe that the United States is a country dealing with a plague of frivolous lawsuits. We’re told that corporations are constantly the victims of people suing over inconsequential matters, and even everyday citizens should be on the lookout for neighbors and other citizens looking to make quick buck from a “slip and fall” accident.

But are these frivolous lawsuits really so frivolous? Or as common as they’re portrayed to be?

photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

The Real Statistics

We can quickly run a fact check to see that the number of people running to file lawsuits is much lower than how it’s portrayed. According to the most recent data, only 10 percent of injured Americans file any kind of compensation claim, and just 2 percent end up filing a lawsuit. As a percentage of civil caseloads, tort cases have been steadily declining over the past few decades.

In other words, the number of “frivolous” lawsuits has always been low and is dropping, because the number of total tort cases is low and dropping.

The Real Damage

Statistically, the number of lawsuits is much lower than we’re led to believe. But what about the actual cases? As it turns out, they’re usually not as frivolous as they seem.

For example, slip and fall accidents seem like no big deal; after all, we’ve all fallen at some point, whether it’s on ice in the winter or on our own freshly mopped floors. But the reality is, these accidents can cause traumatic injuries that lead to weeks of missed work and thousands of dollars of medical bills. When those accidents could have been prevented, the negligent party deserves to be held responsible.

We can also look at famously “frivolous” lawsuits to see that they aren’t as trivial as they’re made to be. One of the most sensationalized examples here is the story of a woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling coffee in her lap. While opponents cried out that this was an example of an adult who couldn’t take responsibility for her mistakes, the reality is that this woman suffered third-degree burns over 6 percent of her body, which required skin grafts. The coffee was served 50 degrees hotter than home-brewed coffee, and the woman tried to settle for a mere $20,000—just to cover medical expenses—but ended up walking away with $640,000 because McDonald’s wanted to fight her over it.

Other examples of excessive litigation have been completely fabricated. Back in the early 2000s, an email called the “Stella Awards” listed a number of supposedly true cases that prove how unnecessarily litigious our society has become. Some of the examples here include a man who sued a driver for hitting him after trying to steal the driver’s hubcaps, and a woman who sued a nightclub after falling when she tried to sneak in through a back window. These stories have become urban legend, and despite coming from an email that’s now more than a decade old, they’re still often believed to be true.

Why the Myth?

So why is this myth so commonplace if it’s completely unfounded? There are a few different reasons for this. First, when a corporation is sued by an individual, they have the resources to access the media and make the case look frivolous, which can increase their chances of winning the case. Corporations have a vested interest in the general public believing such frivolous lawsuits exist—both as a way to minimize the actual damage done in these cases, and as a way to discourage future litigation.

We’re also notoriously curious creatures, and gullible ones at that. When someone spins a narrative about the frivolity of a lawsuit, we’re inclined to believe it, partially because we’ve already assumed we’re living in a litigious culture, and partially because we know other people are crazy. We’re then likely to share the same story with our friends, carrying the myth onward.

The truth is, we aren’t living in a litigious society—or at least, not to the extent we’re made out to be. Personal injuries can be devastating, even when they arise under what seem to be innocuous circumstances, and legal action is made available because people need to be protected. Before you change how you behave out of fear of our litigious society, or write off the possibility of taking legal action after you’ve been wronged, consider these facts, and protect yourself however necessary.

Author: Anna Johansson

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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