"This is obviously an example of vigilantism at its worst."
"I'd call it vigilantism at its best!"Heroes can get away with everything... unless they're in a comedic setting. A lawyer can sooner or later bring the Big Damn Heroes to court for blowing up the villain's fortress (destruction of property), killing his henchmen (numerous cases of murder) and stealing the Ancient Long-Lost Powerful Mysterious Thingie of the Ancients (thievery. What? Just because it was stolen in the first place, that doesn't make stealing it again any less illegal.) The heroes will try to explain the heroic nature of those crimes, but such arguments will quickly and inevitably get ignored by the lawyer. No Hero Insurance for them. Occasionally, villains can get in trouble too, e.g. for attacking the president (assassination attempt), playing football with people's most prized possessions (destruction of property), and imitating Darth Vader's voice (copyright infringement), and Hilarity Ensues. Played straight in a number of places, especially in the Dark Age or against a Villain with Good Publicity. Several Elseworld series are based on this; badly written, it comes with the Family-Unfriendly Aesop that "superheroes are so valuable that the damages they do are acceptable losses, no matter what." Will occasionally involve the Weird Trade Union. Aversions may involve some form of Hero Insurance, though rarely if ever will both tropes appear concurrently. (Though a story about a superhero trying to purchase public liability insurance would be kind of cool.) Frivolous Lawsuit is a subset of this. Not a comedic Mary Sue, though such things do exist.
—The Tick has trouble in court
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Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Togusa tries and fails to save a woman from being murdered in an alleyway, shooting (and crippling) her killer in the process. He is then brought up on charges of excessive force for shooting her killer in cold blood. He gives a lengthy speech note which motivates the bad guy and his lawyer to drop the charges. Both the lawyer and the killer end up badly injured in a suspicious car accident after leaving the courthouse.
- She-Hulk likes to play with this one too, with Jennifer Walters (AKA the She-Hulk) being a lawyer for a firm that specializes in superhero cases.
- Played with earlier in the Damage Control series.
- The entire Marvel Universe has taken on this attitude recently, what with their apparent anger at all the superheroes for not letting supervillains kill them and steal their stuff (What's up with that? So mean!), and their anger at stopping Norman Osborn from ruling the world and trying to kill everyone...
Films — Animated
- On a less humorous note, at the start of The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible is sued by a man who was trying to commit suicide and who got whiplash when Mr. Incredible saved him. This catalyzes a chain reaction which results in all superheroes being seen as a liability and forced into retirement.
Films — Live-Action
- On a more humorous note, Ghostbusters 2: They saved the city from the apocalypse and are shut down for it.
- In The Return of Captain Invincible, the eponymous hero retired and crawled inside a bottle as a result of such a lawsuit. Among the crimes listed were his Underwear of Power.
- In Superman, Supes trackes Lex Luthor's threat of a poison gas pellet to his lair under the streets of Metropolis. After he breaks down the door to see Lex sitting there calmly, Luthor tells him, "Come in. It's open. My attorney will be in touch with you about damage to the door."
- The title character of Hancock is a notoriously negligent superhero who has absolutely no regards for collateral damage. This eventually catches up with him, as a warrant is finally put out for his arrest. He is a vagrant alcoholic with no assets, precluding any useful civil suits, and his powers make him invincible, but in the interest of PR he is eventually (voluntarily) taken to court and sentenced to prison for criminal acts.
- In the Discworld novel The Wee Free Men, the eponymous tiny, blue people ("Pictsies! Feegle wha' hae!", and not tiny little woad-covered Glaswegians at all) are afraid of nothing except for lawyers. They never give anyone their true names, in fear of getting arrested for their pranks and crimes. Near the end of the book, the villain uses lawyers to render them helpless. At this point, the toad they carry around with them suddenly remembers his past and files a counterargument — he was a lawyer himself. The Nac Mac Feegle are awed at the concept of defense attorneys: "We got a cheap lawyer, and we're no' afraid to use 'im!"
- In fairness, any lawsuit against the Feegle would be totally justified. Don't bother nailing things down; all that means is that they'll rob you of some nails too.
- Lampshaded in the Discworld novel Hogfather, where Susan retells Jack and the Beanstalk by listing all the crimes Jack committed, and then adds which proves you can get away with anything if you are a hero.
- Kitty Takes a Holiday has a dramatic example after Cormac, the resident Badass Longcoat, blows half of an evil skinwalker's face off to put it out of its misery, after it was already mortally wounded. This saves the pretty heroine, her lover, a police officer, and a couple civilians. Traditional end to a werewolf story, right? We're only two-thirds through the book; the Badass has just been arrested for murder because the final bullet constituted excessive force. (Not so much Hollywood Law as a combination of Dirty Cop, Amoral Attorney, and Fantastic Racism, plus The Masquerade only recently having been broken.)
- In The Dresden Files, Harry is repeatedly being sued by talk show host Larry Fowler for allegedly damaging his studio during an interview. Fortunately, the suit never really gets anywhere, as not only does Harry have a good lawyer (thanks to the fact that he found the lawyer's daughter's lost pet), but the argument that "the wizard fried my studio's electronics via magic by being near them" likely earned a few stern glares from the judge. Sometimes, the Extra-Strength Masquerade is useful.
- Unfortunately, Fowler just keeps trying, book after book. Even when Harry doesn't lose the case, all the court fees pile up.
- In Cordwainer Smith's NORSTRILIA, Lord Redlady ties up the antagonist in a ridiculous number of lawsuits on behalf of Rod's Earth debtors, who fear that the creep might harm him — or would if they knew about him. An official smirks "We're so freedom-minded that if we charge a man with murder, he has time to commit a few more. But civil suits? Hot sheep! He'll never get out of those as long as he lives."
- In Get Fuzzy, Bucky sues Fungo for knocking out two of his teeth. However, he was trying to catch Fungo in a snare trap at the time, so Judge Judy ruled in the favor of the defendant.
Live Action TV
- At one point in Heroes, Peter Petrelli is sued by a man who claims that Peter injured him while saving him from a bus crash. However, the man drops the lawsuit as soon as he's accomplished his real objective: meeting Peter.
- In the same vein, the boys from Supernatural have quite the rap sheet. Murder, grave desecration, theft, evading the law, breaking out of custody, assault, breaking and entering, etc. etc... All in the course of fighting the supernatural; demons don't mind dirty tricks, after all, making most of them cases of Not What It Looks Like. The credit card fraud, grave desecration and impersonating federal agents... OK, those they're actually guilty of. Although the grave desecration is often self defense or defense of another. Hard to argue that in court, though.
- This does get addressed in one episode when the Winchesters get arrested, then defend the police station when it's assaulted by demons. The police thank them by making use of a helicopter crash during the episode to legally kill the boys, taking away some of the heat.
- Probably the best episode of the live action adaptation of The Tick involved the eponymous character having a nuclear weapon excluded as evidence against Destroyo because he took it without a warrant.
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Guybrush is wanted for numerous crimes, all of which are his heroic deeds or puzzle solutions; the list of crimes on his "Wanted" poster grows as the game progresses.
- In Disgaea 2, characters often get subpoenaed to the Dark Court for such mundane things as having too high a level or overkill on a bad guy (Tink is charged and convicted with the crime of existing. No, really). With the subversion that, since this is the demon world, felonies are good, and the court that convicts you of them doesn't hand you a sentence but a reward.
- The Reality On The Norm game Defender of RON: After Phil Nihilist gains superpowers, he gets sued by DC Comics for copyright infringement, because his powers are the same as Superman's. The plot of the game involves trying to change his superpowers to something that's not copyrighted.
- Darkmoon's Silly Web Comic has lawsuits and courts of law in its comedic jumble concerning Dracula's public relations.
- Finn from Deverish Also accidentally activated a Cool Gate which sucked him and everything else nearby into another world. Meaning he vanished, along with a company van and a whole bunch of warehouse inventory, and the warehouse itself was leveled. The Earth police and company staff aren't exactly pleased with him.
- It's Walky! is a rare dramatic example of the heroes being sued for their actions, as the entire SEMME team (though in the end, just Joyce) are dogged by the media.
- Their collective criminal record is also pretty impressive.
- The entire premise of Jailhouse Blues is that Dr. Wily hired a lawyer and had criminal charges filed against Megaman for the destruction of his fortress oh so many times, which ends up landing Megaman in jail.
- The Order of the Stick pulled this off; our heroes are hunted down for accidentally destroying a seal holding back Sealed Evil in a Can, and eventually end up getting put on trial.
- In this strip from Sluggy Freelance, Torg tries to pull one of these on Bun-Bun to get the Comedic Sociopath to answer for his abusive behavior. Bun-Bun turns it around on Torg thanks to some lawyers and the race card.
- Van Von Hunter is arrested and put on trial early on for murdering a local vampire. The maiden Von Hunter tried to rescue is also arrested, as an accomplice. It is, of course, a Kangaroo Court.
- Part of the basic concept of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
- Reversed with Transformers Animated. After the Headmaster commits Grand Theft Me with Sentinel Prime the police are all ready to arrest him — until Powell arrives and points out that Autobots have no legal rights, the "crime" was committed in international waters (Lake Erie), and any damage done was to his own company's boat. Therefore, the police couldn't charge him with anything. This did not endear him to Captain Fanzone in later episodes...
- Note: Lake Erie has no international waters. It's all either U.S. or Canadian. (Ditto for Lake St. Clair.) Of course, the show is set in the early 22nd century, so things may have changed.
- Powell's words were used against him in a later episode: After Optimus and Grimlock came to Sumdac Tower to get an old piece of equipment, he tried to have them arrested. Fanzone smugly responded by saying that, since they were aliens, they were not beholden to humanity's laws. This is another case of poor research as codified theft laws are not concerned with the gender/nationality/race of the perpetrator of the crime, only that said person committed the unlawful actions that make up the crime, namely the willing and unauthorized taking of another's property. As long as those conditions are met, then the law has been broken. The fact it was committed by a giant robot from another planet is immaterial as far as the legal system is concerned. The only possibility is that Transformers somehow don't meet the definition of "person" under the law, which, being sentient, they probably do.
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Krabs vs. Plankton", Plankton sues Mr. Krabs after Plankton slips on a wet floor without any signs to warn him. The reparation Plankton seeks? Everything Krabs owns, including the secret Krabby Patty formula. In Plankton's defense, instead of Krabs helping him up or offering to call 911, all he does is basically sit there and verbally abuse Plankton for getting injured. In Krabs' defense, Plankton has a history of attempted Krabby Patty theft. Plankton wasn't all that seriously injured anyway, he was just faking it to try to win the lawsuit.
- In an episode of Yin Yang Yo, Carl The Evil Cockroach Wizard stages injuries received from Yin and Yang while the two were in the midst of training, which leads to a kangaroo court case; naturally, the jury, witnesses and plantiff are all their past villains.
- Happens a few times in The Venture Bros., with the main antagonist ending up in jail briefly.
- Implied in one episode of Batman: The Animated Series. After small-time crook Spider Conway is apparently killed on his way to testify against mobster Rupert Thorne, Batman breaks down the door to Thorne's greenhouse to have words with him. Thorne remarks, "You'd best have the money to pay for that." (As you might expect, Batman is not amused.)