The US Chamber of Commerce is at it again sending out emails detailing what it claims are the most ridiculous lawsuits of the year. Make no mistake, the Chamber’s goal is to close the courthouse doors to injured people and their families and prevent big business from being held accountable when their products kill or seriously injure people. But what about the underlying message? Is it really that easy to bring suit in New York and win a large recovery? Can a burglar who trips over an extension cord and breaks his leg really sue the homeowner whom he was trying to victimize for damages? Is the civil justice system just another form of lottery where the lucky winner takes home a bundle from a helpless corporation, municipality or doctor? Allow us to separate myth from reality.
Section 130-1.1a. Signing of papers
In New York, a lawyer cannot sign a complaint or any other document in connection with a lawsuit unless the lawyer certifies that the presentation of the document or the contentions in the paper are not frivolous. A lawyer risks financial sanctions and professional discipline for violating this rule. This is a Rule that few attorneys would knowingly risk violating. We, as attorneys, must take responsibility for all documents that bear our signature. An attorney who would take on what to the public (and any ethical lawyer) would appear to be a preposterous claim (such as Mom trips over toddler in store and sues store for negligence) has to think twice before signing the Summons and Complaint and starting such a lawsuit.
Section 130-1.1. Costs; sanctions; Rules of Professional Conduct
There are also disciplinary and court rules which prohibit the filing of a lawsuit for illegitimate purposes (such as to harass or maliciously injure another). A lawyer who ignores these rules will soon be in deep trouble. Okay, the skeptics out there and those who hold little respect for lawyers may not be impressed with these rules and still conclude that there are too many lawyers out there who won’t be deterred by the Rules from filing a garbage lawsuit. What happens after the lawsuit is filed? Is there nothing to save the innocent from such nefarious creatures? Stay tuned for Part II.