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The Myth of Frivolous Lawsuits

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Frivolous litigation is a legal defense exercised when a plaintiff is trying to assert a claim that is legally baseless, without merit, and full of unsupported assertions. The goal of a frivolous lawsuit is to obstruct the adjudication of proceedings with no real colorable claims of law, forcing defendants to come up with legal reasoning to refute meritless claims. The definition of “frivolous” is a narrow, legal one that many non-lawyers expand to use in the more colloquial sense of frivolous, meaning “silly.” This expansion in the vernacular has helped to give rise to the myth of the frivolous lawsuit.

President Bush addressed the problem of “frivolous lawsuits” in his 2004 campaign for the presidency, and articulated his desire to protect big business from these lawsuits. Frivolous lawsuits may be a hot campaign issue and a popular item with voters, but typically they do not have great significance in the legal arena. Most genuine frivolous lawsuits are dismissed by a trial judge with sanctions on the attorney for bringing the frivolous suit before getting to the trial stage.

Because some lawsuits are referred to colloquially as “frivolous” in the sense of “laughable” in political discussions, it has heated up the debate over tort reform. Usually the tort reform supporters will state that they oppose “frivolous” lawsuits in a broad sense of the word. On the other hand, the opposition refers to the narrower, legal definition of “frivolous” lawsuits when discussing tort reform and claims there is no grave need for reform of the tort system in place.