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What Makes A Civil Case Frivolous?

Florida’s name has shown up in a few recent articles about how its civil courts and juries tend to favor larger payments than in other parts of the country. But setting aside whether or not that’s factually true, what exactly makes high personal injury settlements and jury awards a bad thing?

The Purpose Of Personal Injury

The first question that needs answering is, “Why allow personal injury lawsuits in the first place?” If someone broke a law and committed a crime, that’s what criminal cases and criminal courts are for. Why not let that be the start and end of things?

There are several ways to refute that argument, enough to fill up its own article. But the short answer is that, while the state can bring a person to court to get justice, it’s up to the person who was wronged to get compensation for any damage. Damage can include all kinds of very real costs, like auto repairs or a replacement car, medical bills, and lost income from days spent recovering instead of working.

Personal injury cases are also an important and significant way for individuals to make corporations and large companies accountable for their actions. A corporation can follow every regulation to the letter and still create a product they know is dangerous, or they can follow a regulation maintenance routine even when they know that their machines need extra care to operate safely. In situations when regulations aren’t enough to keep individuals safe, a personal injury suit can fill the gap and give the injured person a way to get compensation and make the corporation face some consequences for its negligence.

The Definition Of Frivolous

The word “frivolous” comes up a lot when people complain about personal injury lawsuits. But the thing about that word is that it has a very particular meaning when it comes to court cases.

Legally speaking, a “frivolous” legal action is one that clearly has no merit attached, no way to justify what you’re doing except to point out that you’re clearly trying to harass, embarrass, or delay your opponent. A lawsuit can be frivolous, and so can motions and appeals.

For example, if a person tripped on a section of sidewalk and sued the person who owned the lot, and if the plaintiff showed up to court with a neck brace and absolutely no doctor’s notes, diagnoses, or photos of the injury, the judge would almost certainly throw the case out for being frivolous. Or if the defendant motioned to dismiss a case without offering any legal reason why the judge would deny the motion for being frivolous.

The Frivolous Issue

While some articles, journalists, and politicians use the words “frivolous lawsuits” frequently, civil court judges tend to avoid applying the term except in the most obvious cases. But this isn’t because civil cases give them and personal injury lawyers job security.

Here’s the big issue: the judicial branch of the government is in many ways the last line of defense. Someone has broken a law and has to face justice. Someone has caused real harm to another person and has to pay that person back for the damage he or she caused.

Often enough, the injuring party (or the insurance company that covers the damage) will willingly pay up, but when they refuse or offer too little it’s up to the courts to decide who’s right. But the court can’t decide anything if the judge throws it out immediately for being “frivolous,” and so for the most part they don’t. They let both sides gather and present their evidence, which often proves that what might have sounded frivolous actually has some very solid proof behind it.

So that’s why civil cases can often sound frivolous: civil judges want to give the justice system a chance to do its job. Because it’s better to let a few people abuse the system than to let corporations and insurance companies avoid paying individuals who deserve compensation for their injuries.