Is Frivolous Litigation a Real Problem Nowadays?

by JRO on November 23, 2013

There is a growing debate about the number of lawsuits filed in the United States and the impact such filings have on the legal system. One side claims that the litigious nature of Americans, egged on in part by personal injury and tort attorneys, results in an inordinate number of “frivolous” lawsuits that are a waste of the court’s valuable time. Republicans in the House of Representatives have been particularly vocal about this issue, and have recently introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at tort reform.

The first bill, H.R. 982, entitled the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act, seeks to reduce the number of duplicative asbestos claims where a litigant may have already received damages from a previous suit. The second bill, H.R. 2655, is referred to as the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act. If passed, it would impose monetary fines on lawyers who file frivolous suits.

There are countless examples that suggest that there is a problem with litigants pursuing frivolous claims. Examples include a man who purchased a porn video and then sued the store because the featured actress only appeared in 10 of the film’s 75 minutes; Robert Kropinski’s lawsuit against Maharishi International University for fraudulently claiming that Kropinski could learn to self-levitate; and, the famous Stella Liebeck McDonald’s coffee burn case, which serves as the rallying cry for tort reform.

Number of Tort Claims Filed

In terms of civil litigation in the United States, tort cases represented 4.4 percent of cases, while contract and small claims disputes accounted for 73 percent of cases, according to a 2008 survey by the National Center for State Courts. The largest percentage of tort cases are those involving motor vehicles, followed by product liability and personal injury suits.

At the federal level, nearly 1,650 tort cases were heard in 2005, a decrease of 54 percent from a peak of 3,600 such cases heard by federal courts in 1985.

Success Rate of Tort

Tort actions involving product liability have the lowest rate of success in federal courts, even lower than those involving medical malpractice and motor vehicles. Among individuals who have their tort cases decided by a jury, only 11.6 percent received a verdict in excess of $1 million. Those whose cases were decided by a judge had an even lower chance of receiving a judgment of $1 million or more, with just a 2.3 percent success rate.

Are Frivolous Lawsuits a Problem for the Legal System?

Based on the number of cases heard in state and federal courts and the fact that less than 12 percent of plaintiffs receive verdict awards in excess of $1 million, it is hard to make a definitive argument that frivolous cases are a problem for the courts. The tort cases that make headlines often overshadow the normal course of tort litigation that takes place in the United States, and the small percentage of these types of cases in the court system (at both the state and federal level) relative to other types of civil actions.

Caseloads on the federal level have decreased in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (down 14 percent) and U.S. District Courts (down 5 percent for both criminal and civil cases) while filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals were up 4 percent for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012. Civil cases on the state level are down 2.8 percent from 2009 and 2010. These numbers indicate that the biggest problem related to frivolous lawsuits is perception.


Grant Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas who actively contributes material on civil procedure, personal injury, bail bonds, criminal justice, prison facilities and other like subjects; Grant recommends that those who’d like to learn more about bail bonds in Pearland TX visit

Freelance legal writer based in the greater metro area of Seattle, WA.

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