I read a story today about a Judge in Washington DC who has taken it upon himself to sue a dry cleaning business for a total of $65 million dollars because the business lost a pair of his trousers. This lawsuit presents a perfect example of what appears to be frivolous litigation which should be dismissed. We hear numerous stories and media attention often focuses on frivolous litigation. We hear stories about McDonalds hot coffee and now a $65 million dollar lawsuit against a dry cleaner over a lost pair of pants. We often overlook legitimate lawsuits which serve a legitimate purpose. We do not look at litigation against pharmacists who mis-fill prescriptions or automobile manufacturers who refuse to spend a few dollars to retrofit gasoline tanks in cars making them prone to explosions. We do not look at litigation against insurance carriers who refuse to pay insurance claims to properly qualified insureds. We do not look at litigation against physicians who operate on the wrong body part. We do not look at litigation against drunk drivers who cause serious accidents and injuries on our nation’s roadways.
I am absolutely certain that the number of frivolous lawsuits in this country pales in comparison to the number of lawsuits which have merit. If a lawsuit is frivolous, it must be dismissed. Our Rules of Civil Procedure require dismissal and a monetary punishment against the offending attorney or party who chooses to file frivolous litigation. In short, we can easily look to a frivolous lawsuit as an example of problems in our system of justice. Based on media accounts into the the drycleaning lawsuit, this case appears frivolous. Because our rules of civil procedure require that such frivolous lawsuits be dismissed and the judicial system will likely dismiss it, the Washington DC judge who filed suit faces penalties and dismissal for choosing to file suit. No system of justice can be considered perfect. However, because our system of justice has safeguards to prevent such frivolous litigation from moving forward, the drycleaning lawsuit should not be another rhetorical tool to advance the interest of tort reform. I can only hope that we focus the same attention on this lawsuit when it gets dismissed so that we can confirm that our judicial system works.