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The Cost of Frivolous Lawsuits


How much does it cost you to protect yourself against someone else's "day in court?"

I recently wrote of the judge in DC who sued his dry cleaners for $67 million over a pair of lost pants.

The defendant in this case had to fight this in court, and while they won, it was oh so expensive. It cost them $83,000 in legal fees. They're asking to have the judge who brought the suit to cover those costs. No decision yet... but at the moment, just in terms of dollars, this business owner has lost more than what most people make in a year over a simple mistake. That doesn't at all factor in their time involved.

There ought to be a reasonable cap for this kind of thing. Like maybe two or three times the value of the damaged/lost article. Had Roy Pearson only been able to sue for $2,400 over his $800 pair of pants, he would have been able to recoup his money and easily buy a new pair, the owners of the dry cleaners would have spent no more than $3,000 on the whole affair, and the legal system wouldn't look so ridiculous to allow this sort of escapade.

Roy Pearson thought he had a right to this. In fact, he asked that the decision be reconsidered, and was told that there will be no reconsideration.

Pearson originally sought $67 million in his lawsuit, which was based on a strict interpretation of the city's consumer protection law. The suit also included damages for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney's fees for representing himself.
But beyond just the value of the lost pants, we have the ambiguous and subjective valuations for inconvenience and mental anguish. And you would think that two or three times the value of the pants might cover that.

I'll keep on top of this. I want to know if the folks who own the dry cleaners get their money back. I also suspect that Roy Pearson, a judge who is apparently bereft of common sense and perspective, will keep plugging away at this. Which of course will cost more legal fees to the defendants...


Read the whole story of "The Pants Lawsuit"
Tags: legal reform
by Brett Rogers, 7/18/2007 9:13:20 AM


Ahhh...but what is the value of a leg. Or an eye? Or a life? What is two or three times that? Don't get me wrong...I'm not defending this pants guy, I'm just saying it's really, really complicated.



Posted by Bella, 7/18/2007 11:25:31 AM

Wouldn't it be pretty easy to say that purchased goods can fall under a cap? That's not complicated. The rest? Sure - go to court and figure it out. But I think those who can write law can figure out how to prevent stupidity like this.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 7/18/2007 11:30:32 AM

There are other complications even with purchased goods. A house that someone has lived in for 50 years and raised their children in? Yes, 2 or three times the value of pants might cover mental anguish, but of a house that you've invested your life in? A business? I believe pets are property in Iowa (I'm not sure). Walt the cat, with a cap of 3 X, is worth about $300 (I paid about a hundred to the shelter). If somebody kills him through wrong doing and I sue them, I tell you what--there will be more than $300 worth of mental anguish.

It's not a matter of writing law, it's a matter of line drawing, and that is such a huge judgement call I doubt you'd find a lot of fair, objective lawyers that are willing to draw it. The phrase slippery slope comes to mind.

I don't doubt there are a number of outrageous claims out there. But I feel good saying there are probably more justified ones, and stupid ones get thrown out all the time. It's just the few that don't get booted that make the news, and frankly, this particular guy is looking way more foolish to me than the legal system. Yes, it allows this, but it allows for more good restitution than bad.



Posted by Bella, 7/18/2007 12:29:15 PM

So let's take your example - a house lived in for 50 years. And let's apply an accident such as the one the dry cleaners did to Roy Pearson. Let's say that a guy lost his brakes and plowed into the front of the house. No one injured, but the house is irreparably damaged.

Do we ruin the life of someone for an accident because we pursue a perceived value on the house at millions of dollars? Inconvenience? Mental anguish?

Life isn't always fair and accidents will happen. While I believe that amends should be made, they should not enslave a person who acted with no malice for the remainder of their life to work in repayment of a judgement of tens or hundreds of times the street value of the house. I think that two or three times the value is adequate. That's replacement, plus extra for inconvenience and time lost.

I'm not sure what you mean by "wrong doing," but I'm referring to a situation like that endured by the defendants in this case. It was an accident.

I've only sat in a jury pool once in my life. A woman was suing Casey's in Ames because she slipped in the parking lot during an ice storm and broke her ankle. Her medical bills were about $5K and she healed up fine, but she was suing for $225,000. Pain and suffering, marital woes that arose from the broken ankle, yadda yadda. Gimme a break. My parting comment as I was booted from the jury pool was, "You live in Iowa. It was winter. What did you expect?" And if a broken ankle hurts their marriage, they didn't have much to begin with. The court and money can't fix that problem.

Outrageous claims happen more than you think, just not at the hyperbolic amounts that make the news.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 7/18/2007 3:43:22 PM

You kind of prove my point about why caps won't work. Yes, accidents do happen. Yes outrageous suits happen. The thing is, if you apply caps, then perfectly valid claims on purchased property, intellectual property, any property, all fall under the same limits, and they shouldn't. Laws about compensation have to be flexible enough for interpretation, and putting those kind of limits on them makes juries less able to do what's right. All suits have to be taken on a case by case basis, and yes, some outrageous ones will be in there. Maybe more than I think, but I'm not completely naive about the numbers. For every outrageous case, there's going to be at least one that is perfectly justified, and that justified one is the one that some kind of cap will screw over. I'm sorry about the dry cleaners, but as you said, life isn't always fair.

Seriously..if some guy's incompetence at wiring your house causes it to get burnt down? This place that houses your family, and the potential harm the fire could have caused them? The possibility that a fire started because of this guy is going to kill somebody? I guess I'm more vengeful. Three times the value wouldn't cut it. :-)

Is it the same thing as the pants? Absolutely not. But the legal idea is the same. It's like freedom of speech. Either it's there or it's not. The line can't be drawn and protect those who are right and just.

Okay...we got way off the topic. We agree that the guy suing over the pants is a moron. Let's just go with that. :P



Posted by Bella, 7/18/2007 5:28:46 PM


I agree with you in the pants case. It is extremely unfortunate this case went to trial and actually cost the defendants $83,000 in legal fees. To sue for millions of dollars for a lost pair of pants is not sensible in my view. I sure hope the defendants are awarded their attorney's fees. Only then will justice be done. But if that happens it does support the notion that the system works. Is it perfect? No. But I do prefer our system of justice to others around the world.




Posted by Rush Nigut (, 7/18/2007 9:50:05 PM

I say require Pearson to pay the dry cleaners legal fees, return his pant (which the dry cleaners found) with the words "I'm a moron" silk screened in hot pink down each leg and require him to wear them every day for a year.



Posted by Kelly, 7/18/2007 10:21:08 PM

Hey Rush

I agree that ours is the best in the world. But why not make it better?

And Kelly - LMAO! That is a scream, and I love your sense of justice.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 7/18/2007 10:24:53 PM

That is just too damn funny! How about a new reality show where the people call in and assign the appropriate punishment? Makes a lot more sense than a tool like this presiding over a courtroom.

Ron White says it best with "you can't fix stupid."



Posted by Pale Rider, 7/18/2007 11:19:05 PM


I agree that the system can always get better. Perhaps Kelly is on to something.




Posted by Rush Nigut (, 7/19/2007 11:04:02 PM

You don't suppose when this suit was filed if the residing Judge looked at Pearson (like for a couple minutes, with his jaw dangling a few inches from his desk) and said, "Ooookay, but, if you lose, "this" is going to happen (see my above post)" we may never have heard of this?



Posted by Kelly, 7/20/2007 12:52:29 AM

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