At one point or another, many attorneys will encounter a lawsuit they believe to be potentially frivolous. These claims often lead to frustration for the defending attorney and client who may face two difficult alternatives: (a) settle the case in order to avoid defense costs or (b) expend time and money in defending a meritless claim. A recent case out of Pennsylvania may give some hope to those forced to defend weak claims and might give pause to anyone considering such a suit in the future.
A jury in Philadelphia County recently awarded approximately $2.3 million in damages in a frivolous litigation matter. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant attorney and law firm commenced and pursued a frivolous claim designed to extort money. Defendant Attorney represented Client in a bitter amongst Client’s family over nearly $1 million in stocks. Client, through Defendant Attorney, alleged that Client’s aunt was mentally incompetent and that Client’s brother-in-law (“Plaintiff”) was unduly influencing the aunt in order to take advantage of the stock windfall. That suit was dismissed with prejudice in 2013.
Subsequently, the brother-in-law (who is an attorney) filed a claim against Defendant Attorney alleging that the undue influence suit was commenced solely to pressure the family into a financial settlement by way of threatening his reputation within the legal community. The jury agreed with Plaintiff’s allegations, and awarded approximately $2.3 million in damages, with approximately $1.9 millions attributed to Defendant Firm.
Though the threat or implication of a potential lawsuit is a very common and predictable settlement and negotiation tactic, following through with such a lawsuit where the claim itself is not solvent creates the instant potential for retribution by way of a counter-suit based upon frivolity or vexatious litigation. Instances such as this serve as yet another reminder that those in the legal profession need to take care and exercise only the best and most prudent of judgment when accepting and pursuing cases on behalf of clients, lest the potential for recovery turn into a potential for loss.