How Well Does Our Civil Justice System Protect You?

Every year at this time, the legislature, whether in Florida, Alabama, or Timbucktu, considers bills designed to limit somebody's responsibility for their carelessness that hurts others in car accidents, in nursing homes, or in countless other ways. Invariably, the bills' sponsors justify the proposed legislation on the ground that the beneficiaries of the legislation, typically a special interest of one sort or another, are entitled to relief from frivolous suits.

Let me tell you the argument against giving immunity to wrongdoers, and you make the decision about who is right. Since the issue is whether there are really enough frivolous suits that get through the court system to justify immunizing someone who might hurt you or your family from suit, I want to list just a few of the safeguards that presently exist in the law to keep the frivolous suits from succeeding. If there aren't enough safeguards, then, maybe the special interest legislation is appropriate. However, if enough do exist, one has to question whether the special interests' lobbyists have been too effective in trying to change laws to protect their negligent clients.

First, in both the federal and state court systems, every defendant has the right to move for summary judgment. If the judge grants the motion, the case is thrown out of court before trial. Summary judgment is granted if there is no material fact entitling the injured person to a verdict. Judges take these motions seriously and routinely toss out cases that don't have merit. Second, various laws impose serious sanctions on lawyers who file frivolous cases.

In Florida, Chapter 57 of the statutes states that if a lawyer knowingly files a frivolous case, that is, one not supported by the law or facts, that lawyer and his client must pay the other side's attorney's fee and costs. Similarly, in the federal court system, Rule 11 is a powerful tool to deter the filing of frivolous cases. As with Florida's chapter 57, the lawyer filing a non-meritorious case is in serious trouble.

Now, armed with this knowledge, you can decide if the legislature would be right to give additional immunities that would aid special interests to avoid legitimate responsibility for injuries they cause.

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