THE FRIVOLOUS LAWSUIT MYTH
Let me start this post with a simple question: how many people have heard of the “McDonald’s hot coffee” case, which is the poster child for the “frivolous lawsuit” campaign against personal injury lawyers? The mere mention of this case can send people into orbit about how America is being overrun by ridiculous lawsuits and/or we are just “too litigious” as a society.
Now, how many of those same people have heard that, although the jury went into the case wondering why they needed to be involved in a coffee spill case, after hearing the evidence about intentional scalding water which had previously hurt others, these same jurors rendered a verdict of 2.7 million. I bet not many.
Now, how many of those bitterly citing the McDonald’s case as an example of a ridiculous lawsuit have heard that the jury awarded 2.5 million of that award as punitive damages (meaning that McDonald’s deserved to be punished for willful conduct). Even worse, how many have heard that the judge in that same case later explicitly described McDonald’s conduct as reckless, callous, and willful, even when that same judge lowered the total judgment to $640,000 (another fact which is rarely know). Wow, that is some conspiracy against poor defenseless McDonalds!
Undeterred by the actual facts of the case, insurance companies twisted this case by sensationalized headlines and created a campaign of “misinformation” through a willing media (all too happy to repeat the short snippet story without explanation) in order to create the general misperception that frivolous lawsuits are a significant problem in our society.
In other words, this cynical and never-ending campaign by the insurance companies has the explicit goal of creating a “boogie-man” (i.e., the unscrupulous plaintiff) so that they continue to collect their insurance premiums, while at the same time creating public shame for any who seeks redress for being injured by the negligence of others. Why is the public shame needed? To make sure that the insurance companies don’t actually have to pay out claims for what they contracted to do with their insured (and were paid to do). It’s all about the bottom line folks and they know it!
So, the insurance companies spend millions to make sure the twisted stories are floated in the public forum and they know this creates the perception that many cases where an injured plaintiff seeks compensation for injuries are without merit. They want you to feel outrage and have a “poisoned” mind to take action against this “injustice.” The problem is that it is simply not true in most cases.
So here is the common sense response to this insurance company nonsense: Personal injury lawyers take their cases on a contingency fee basis (i.e., our fee is a percentage of the recovery). So, that means a meritless case is a losing case and this means no fees to the lawyer.
The bottom line is that it is economic suicide for the personal injury attorney to invest thousands of dollars in a case which has little chance of recovery (hundreds of thousands if it is a medical malpractice case). Who in their right mind would do that? Yet, the insurance companies would have you believe that “we” are just around the corner waiting to file that frivolous case because the juries are just too dumb and gullible to understand.
We have trust in our juries and we believe in our system. Juries do not find negligence and compensate unless compensation is merited under the facts and law of the case. Nonetheless, insurance companies calculate if the public believes frivolous lawsuits are rampant then some members of a jury panel may believe it too (whether it is actually true or not). This means it will be more difficult for an injured plaintiff to get a decent recovery. They want you to have a predisposed mind that even bringing a lawsuit is wrong and they are banking that will pay dividends by tipping the scales before the case even begins.
In conclusion, playing the odds pays for insurance companies to propagate the frivolous lawsuit myth. That is why millions are being funneled into this campaign, but common sense will tell you it is simply not true.