I read an article online a few days ago about a new advertising campaign to hit theaters. Don’t be surprised to see ads for lawsuit abuse when you sit down to see the newest movie of your choosing at your local movie theater. The point of this campaign, apparently, is to “educate” the popcorn-eating public about frivolous lawsuits. What you likely won’t hear in these ads are the various state rules prohibiting the filing of frivoulous lawsuits, and the consequences for doing so to the filing party and the attorney.
In Texas, “Attorneys or parties who shall bring a fictitious suit as an experiment to get an opinion of the court, or who shall file any fictitious pleading in a cause for such a purpose, or shall make statements in pleading which they know to be groundless and false, for the purpose of securing a delay of the trial of the cause, shall be held guilty of a contempt. If a pleading, motion or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, after notice and hearing, shall impose an appropriate sanction…upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 13. Ample case law exists on this topic. And most attorneys will not file lawsuits that could violate this rule.
That said, there are a handful who will, and they tend to give the entire profession a bad name. And there are others who file lawsuits, whether or not valid, that sound ridiculous to most people. Take, for example, a recent lawsuit filed against the Oakland A’s for excluding men in a Mother’s Day promotion. Really? Did the lawyer want a floppy hat from Macy’s? No, he was obviously looking to make a buck. The reason these cases make headlines is because they are out-of-the-ordinary. They enrage listeners, including most lawyers.
The reason lawyers are referred to as “counselors” is because that is part of the job – we counsel people, oftentimes, to advise them they do not have a claim that we can file. Even the sponsor of the ads to be released in theaters has a section on its website dedicated to the “most ridiculous lawsuits.” There will always be a small number of people who will file the most outrageous lawsuits. And some of the “facts” section is based on public perception of lawsuits. When the worst-of-the-worst lawsuits make headline news, of course public perception is going to be skewed.
This coverage, and the ads coming to your movie theater, will take the focus far from any wrongdoing of defendants in legitimate lawsuits. It victimizes the victims all over again. Yes, of course there are companies who are wrongly sued. But more often, companies are sued because they have or haven’t done something to protect someone from getting hurt. When someone is injured or killed because of the actions or inactions of another person or a company, they or their family deserve their day in court. It is a right granted to every citizen of this country. I would urge the popcorn-eating public not to support organizations that are working to minimize or take away our rights.