Is My Lawsuit Frivolous?

August 6, 2014

Although colloquially used to describe lawsuits that seem absurd, in legal terms, the word “frivolous” is applied to claims and defenses that are illogical, groundless, or both. Frivolous lawsuits unnecessarily waste the court’s valuable time as well as the time and resources of the parties involved. There is a public misconception of concerning frivolous lawsuits, but before applying that term to any absurd lawsuit, it is important to understand what makes a lawsuit frivolous or legitimate.
Frivolous Lawsuit Example: Woman vs. McDonald’s Coffee
The classic and most famous example of a “frivolous lawsuit,” involves a lady and a McDonald’s coffee. Most people have heard, that a woman spilled coffee on herself because the drink was hot, decided to sue McDonalds, and received millions of dollars as a result. Contrary to popular belief, the woman did not receive “millions of dollars,” and while the premise of this lawsuit sounds frivolous, the details of this case give it legitimacy:

  • The woman suffered third degree burns on over six percent of her body, and required skin grafts to treat her injuries.
  • The McDonald’s coffee was served at a temperature much higher than that of a regular home-coffee brewer, the estimated temperature of 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit can inflict third degree burns in two to seven seconds.
  • Although the woman had originally attempted to settle for $20,000, McDonald’s refused, which led to the lawsuit.
  • The final award was $640,000 from which the court deducted $200,000 (20 percent) because the court ruled that the burn injuries were 20 percent the woman’s fault.

When the facts are clearly laid out, it is difficult to call this lawsuit frivolous; as bizarre as the case sounds, the woman had a legitimate claim to seek compensatory damages for her third-degree burns. Likewise, when a serious traffic accident results from a poorly designed road, or an unsound exercise equipment causes a dangerous fall accident, victims of such accidents are entitled to seek compensation for their injuries.
Defending Victims from Frivolous Defenses
While there may have been a lot of public awareness concerning frivolous claims, there is less attention on frivolous defenses that unfairly withhold compensation from a wrongfully injured claimant. At Estey Bomberger, our attorneys are against frivolous claims and defenses, especially because both abuse the justice system.