Public debate has raged for years about when lawsuits go too far, and the terms “frivolous lawsuit” and “tort reform” come up nearly every legislative session in Oklahoma.
But what are frivolous lawsuits?
A frivolous lawsuit is a term used to describe extravagant personal injury claims. Legally, the term frivolous litigation means attorneys file cases or motions they know they will lose. It can also mean attorneys are filing motion after motion just to annoy the other side.
That’s not the kind of law practiced at Laird Hammons Laird. Frivolous lawsuits aren’t even as big of a problem as politicians and insurance companies claim. In reality, ridiculous personal injury cases never make it to a jury.
“Frivolous lawsuits do not make it to trial,” said Jeff Laird, a personal injury attorney and LHL founding partner. “I don’t make my living on frivolous lawsuits.”
The Myth of Frivolous Lawsuits
When people talk about frivolous lawsuits, the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s is usually the first thing to come to mind. In 1992, a 79-year-old woman from New Mexico spilled McDonald’s coffee on her lap, resulting in scalds that left her in the hospital for eight days. Stella Liebeck suffered third-degree burns and needed skin grafts to repair her legs. She also needed two years of medical care afterward. She asked McDonald’s to pay her $10,000 in medical bills. McDonald’s offered her only $800.
For the first time in her life, Liebeck filed a lawsuit. A jury awarded her nearly $3 million. A judge later reduced the award, and Leibeck and McDonald’s settled out of court, reportedly for less than $500,000. And McDonald’s eventually reduced the temperature of its coffee by 10 degrees.
Her case sparked a national debate, and politicians used it as an example of “frivolous” lawsuits. But Stella Liebeck was badly hurt. When she simply asked for her bills to be paid, the international corporation said $10,000 was too much. After she received compensation, her story was twisted into a talking point.
“We’re fighting a public perception that’s actually completely inaccurate,” said Chris Hammons, a personal injury attorney and LHL founding partner.
Laird said the term “frivolous lawsuit” is used by politicians and insurance companies to convince the general public that any type of compensation is frivolous.
“They’ve convinced the voting public that everybody who is injured and tries to get money is a frivolous case,” Laird said. “If a lawyer files a frivolous lawsuit, that judge is going to kick that case out and dismiss it before it even gets going.”
Jurors sometimes dismiss pain and suffering claims as frivolous, too, even though pain and suffering are very real results of injury. In Oklahoma, the limit for pain and suffering claims is $350,000. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider a person left paralyzed, burned or horribly disfigured that number is simply not enough.
Why Lawsuits Exist
The public debate about lawsuits has caused confusion about what lawsuits are for, Hammons said. Personal injury cases are unique in that there’s no way to make amends when it comes to death or injury. Stolen money can be repaid. A smashed window can be replaced. But a leg lost in a truck accident cannot be replaced. A loved one killed in a work accident can’t be replaced.
“The only compensation we have is money,” Hammons said. “Right or wrong, like it or not, it’s a civil matter. Our system was built to compensate people who are injured by someone else’s negligence. The only justice available to us it money, so they shouldn’t feel guilty about it.”
Cases at Laird Hammons Laird
Even with the threat of judges kicking out ridiculous cases, bad lawyers sometimes still bring bad cases to court. Those same attorneys look to make a quick buck by settling out of court.
“You’re not going to get that at Laird Hammons Laird,” Hammons said. “You’re going to get a well-prepared lawyer that is going to fight hard in trial for a good case. And that’s why we’re going to get good results. We’re not taking frivolous cases. That doesn’t exist at Laird Hammons Laird.”
Also, Laird Hammons Laird attorneys often don’t get paid unless our clients win. We’re honest with our clients about their cases, and we fight in court for what they deserve.
“It could be years of work down the tubes if we’re not successful, and our clients could get nothing,” Hammons said. “… I wouldn’t risk (everything) on a case I didn’t believe in.”
What to Do If You’re Injured
If you’ve been hurt at work or in a car or truck accident, seek medical and legal advice right away.
Hammons said sometimes people won’t reach out to an attorney because they don’t believe in lawsuits. He understands where they’re coming from, but they have to protect themselves and their families.
“Seek advice quickly from an attorney,” Hammons said. “You cannot put your trust into an insurance company or a business to do the right thing. You have to protect your own rights.”
If you’ve been hurt, contact the experienced attorneys at Laird Hammons Laird.