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Judiciary Committee Statement on Lawsuit Abuse

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Judiciary Committee Statement on Lawsuit Abuse

Frivolous lawsuits harm our economy and threaten to bankrupt business owners. This is especially true of small business owners who do not have the money to fund prolonged lawsuits.

The alarming spread of frivolous lawsuits has made a mockery of our legal system. Frivolous suits are brought despite no evidence that shows negligence on the part of the defendant. These are nuisance lawsuits, but costly to the defendants.

Of course, many Americans have legitimate legal grievances, from someone disfigured during an operation to a company responsible for contaminating a community's water supply. Americans deserve their day in court. No one who deserves justice should be denied justice.

However, gaming of the system by some lawyers drives up the cost of doing business and drives down the integrity of the judicial system. Let me give some examples.

The Chief Executive Officer of San Antonio's Methodist Children's Hospital was sued after he stepped into a patient's hospital room and asked how he was doing. Of course a jury cleared him of any wrongdoing.

A Pennsylvania man sued the Frito-Lay company claming that Doritos chips were "inherently dangerous" after one stuck in his throat. After eight years of costly litigation the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the case, writing that there is "a common sense notion that it is necessary to properly chew hard foodstuffs prior to swallowing."

In a New Jersey Little League game, a player lost sight of a fly ball hit to him because of the sun. He was injured when the ball struck him in the eye. The coach was forced to hire a lawyer after the boy's parents sued. The coach settled the case for $25,000.

Today almost any party can bring any suit in practically any jurisdiction. That's because plaintiffs and their attorneys have nothing to lose. All they want is for the defendant to settle. This is legalized extortion. It is lawsuit lottery.

Some Americans have filed lawsuits for reasons that can only be described as absurd. They sue a theme park because its haunted houses are too scary. They sue the Weather Channel for an inaccurate forecast. And they sue McDonalds claiming a hot pickle dropped from a hamburger caused a burn and mental injury.

Our national motto might as well be: When in doubt, file a lawsuit. It's always someone else's fault. Defendants, on the other hand, can unfairly lose their careers, their businesses and their reputations. In short, they can lose everything. This is not justice. And there is a remedy: change Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act requires judges to sanction plaintiffs who file frivolous lawsuits merely to extort financial settlements as well as defendants who unnecessarily prolong the process.

Under H.R. 4571, if either party feels they have been subject to a frivolous clam or pleading, they can file a motion with the court for sanctions. If the judge determines that the claim was frivolous, then the sanctions imposed can include an order to pay the attorneys' fees of the party who was the victim of the frivolous claim.

In addition, this legislation removes the provision that currently allows an attorney to file a frivolous pleading and then withdraw it within 21 days. Attorneys now have no incentive to avoid filing frivolous pleadings because they can simply withdraw the pleading to avoid sanctions.

Also, if a state judge determines that a frivolous lawsuit has an impact on interstate commerce, the judge could sanction the litigants by using Rule 11.

Finally, this legislation prevents forum-shopping. It requires that personal injury claims only be filed in the state, county, or federal district where the plaintiff resides, where the injury occurred, or in the state or county where the defendant's principal place of business is located.

This provision addresses the growing problem of attorneys who shop around the country for judges who routinely award plaintiffs excessive amounts.

And the presidential and vice-presidential candidates all agree that we would be a better and more prosperous America if we discouraged frivolous lawsuits.

The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act is sensible reform that will help restore confidence to America's justice system.

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