Follow TV Tropes

Following

Frivolous Lawsuit

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/hot_coffee.jpg
Wait, third-degree burns cost how much to treat?

"I sued Verizon, 'cause I get all depressed any time my cell phone is roaming.
I sued Colorado, 'cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming!
I sued Neiman Marcus, 'cause they put up their Christmas decorations way out of season.
I sued Ben Affleck ... aww, do I even need a reason?!"
Advertisement:

Alice is idling her car out of the driveway when she accidentally bumps into a stranger, Bob. "Ow, my back!" Bob exclaims. "The pain is immeasurable! I'll sue you! I'll sue!"

Someone — usually a stranger, sometimes a friend, occasionally an enemy — has decided to sue Alice in the wake of some minor accident. The plaintiff suffered no real injury, but is suing out of greed, a desire for revenge, or is simply desperate for justice, often with the help of an Ambulance Chaser or otherwise Amoral Attorney. If the judge doesn't laugh the guy out of court, though, our hero must often resort to some variety of Courtroom Antic to discredit her adversary.

The classic sitcom lawsuit is almost always a tort action: the plaintiff is claiming the defendant's negligence harmed them in some way, and is demanding monetary compensation. The actual injury sustained is always minuscule and the amount of damages claimed has to be at least five times what the hero earns in a year. The complaint itself is often just plain silly, such as suing Pizza Building because the X-Treme Meatsa-Treatsaria did not truly deliver "gut-busting meat flavor" as promised.note 

Advertisement:

Technically, a frivolous lawsuit is one brought in bad faith — i.e., brought with no intention, expectation, or chance of success. Within the legal system, calling an action frivolous is like calling the lawyer who brought it a certified loon, the legal equivalent of "not even wrong". Much more common are frivolous claims in otherwise reasonable lawsuits and frivolous courtroom motions that only serve to prolong the legal process and harass participants. Another common instance is the lawsuit that, while it is technically not frivolous because it is based on actionable legal fact, said actionable legal fact is hair-splitting, petty, and a Violation of Common Sense (e.g. a ten million dollar suit filed against a restaurant for not putting ketchup on a burger advertised as having ketchup on it — it is technically false advertisingnote  and therefore legally factual and actionable,note  but is the lack of a free packet of ketchup you could apply yourself worth ten million dollars?).

Advertisement:

The majority of the truly outrageous examples you might have heard of are filed pro se, without an attorney. That's because none want to touch the craziness with a ten-foot pole. If there's an actual attorney involved who isn't also their own clientnote  the case might not be so frivolous as it first appears. This is particularly common in personal injury, where "only paid if you win" is the standard; the prospect of eating the cost of an unsuccessful case forces attorneys to be very selective about the cases they take, ergo they're not going to take something unless they have very good reason to believe that it will be determined in their favor.

Finally, yet another common lawsuit confused with the Frivolous Lawsuit that may or may not be technically frivolous is the SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, used to censor or intimidate people into withdrawing truthful accusations/statements, not releasing proof of corruption/wrongdoing, or otherwise silencing people. The Church of Scientology is absolutely notorious for this practice (to the point that almost all parodies of it include it), and it's often a favored tactic of the Corrupt Corporate Executive and the occasional celebrity caught in major wrongdoing, where it may overlap with the Streisand Effect.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) or its equivalent in a court system that has one, anyone signing a paper to be filed in court is representing to the court that they have made "an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances...." Violation of Rule 11(b) can lead to sanctions, either upon motion by the other party or on the court's own initiative.

In real life, actual frivolous lawsuits will be over long before they get near an actual jury. Repeated filing of frivolous lawsuits, frivolous claims, and frivolous motions will often be met with "contempt of court" charges. Moreover, attorneys have been disbarred for excessive frivolous filings (granted, it takes a long history of accepting worthless cases, making pointless and abusive appeals, and generally pissing everyone off to make them even consider it; bar associations are fairly reluctant to go that far and will never jump straight to disbarment before making use of letters of reprimand, sanctions, and suspensions first).

Likewise, litigants known for repeatedly bringing them can be labeled by the courts as "vexatious" and enjoined from ever filing another without getting court approval first (like disbarment, you really have to fuck up before they'll even consider labeling you as vexatious due to a general reluctance to keep someone from having their day in court. It takes a whole lot of abusive, ridiculous claims, worthless appeals, bad courtroom behavior, unpaid fines, and general egregious misbehavior to get them to even think about forcing you to permanently leave them alone). Even if none of this happens, the case (and others like it) can be banned from itself ever being filed again, at least in both the US and Japanese court systems, if it is summarily dismissed with prejudicenote  which may or may not go as far as the judge calling it frivolous, but is a strong warning to the parties and lawyers involved that trying it or a similar case again will put them at risk of the more severe consequences such as contempt charges, disbarring for attorneys involved, and the like.

Note that Frivolous Lawsuits are the menace of those countries and judicial systems that follow the common law or which follow the judicial sources literally. They are less an issue in those countries which follow the civil law, such as Romano-German judicial system. In several countries, the judge can dismiss a lawsuit completely if he or she sees it as a pointless, frivolous, or as an attempt to abuse the judicial system. This is known in the Romano-German system as prohibition of vexatious litigation: law may not be used to cause harm to someone. Abuse of legal rights was prohibited already in the 1734 law in Sweden.

Often this trope is invoked to make an argument about Tort Reform, i.e. limiting the ability to file claims or capping the liable amount of damages. On the one hand, everyone can agree that there sure seem to be a lot of unnecessary cases brought to court, which takes up both time and money that can be better spent. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that the mere fact that someone with an illegitimate claim asks for a ludicrous amount of money means that someone with a legitimate claim should have their legal recourse limited. Particularly since — in the United States at least — most defendants in tort cases insist on a jury trial, and the jury is responsible both for determining fault and deciding the number of damages to award (if any). Furthermore, many 'outrageous' jury awards are reduced following the inevitable appeal, and highball demands are usually more of a bargaining tactic than anything - they're not expecting that to be the actual award, they're just starting extremely high so that they can negotiate down to the ballpark of what they actually want.

Subtrope of Hilarity Sues. A lawyer who goes after tort claims is called an Ambulance Chaser. See Staged Pedestrian Accident when the accident is invoked to scam people.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Scrooge McDuck once crashed a plane, and a man who had nothing to do with this threw himself at the wreckage and sued Scrooge for one "maximajillion" dollars. This is so large that it exceeds what Scrooge, who at one point had three cubic money bins each over 20 stories tall, expected to make over his lifetime. Scrooge himself is portrayed in many stories as being the richest person in the world, which makes the amount appear even more ludicrous.
  • One Donald Duck comic featured a character apparently known as Lawsuit Joe, who makes a living by throwing himself in the path of slow-moving cars and suing the drivers.
  • Played with in Ultimate Spider-Man. After Peter Parker is bitten and receives his powers, he begins to stand up for himself more, eventually refusing to take crap from Jerk Jock Flash Thompson. Flash responds by challenging Peter to a fight and, not knowing his own strength, Peter easily breaks his hand. Flash's family demand the Parkers pay his medical bills for the incident or they'll sue, ignoring the fact that Flash had been beating up Peter for years and he was the one who instigated the fight.
    • For added bitterness, earlier in the volume, the spider bite made Peter ill enough to go to a hospital, and Oscorp wound up sending the Parkers a gift basket and footed the bill out of fear that they'd sue the company. Uncle Ben later explains he knew it was an accident and Peter wound up fine a few days later, so he'd never consider suing.
    • Later still, Norman Osborn, once he discovers what the spider bite did to Peter, toys with the idea of suing his family. His reasoning: The spider was Oscorp property, along with everything the spider produced. Peter has the spider's venom in his blood. Ergo, Peter has stolen Oscorp property.
  • One issue of the Archie Comics had a man intentionally get rear-ended by Veronica so he could sue her. It took Archie, Chuck, and a Zany Scheme to prove that the man had orchestrated the entire thing.
    • Another story had a burglar sue Archie's family after he injured himself tripping on Archie's skateboard while trying to burglarize the Andrews' home. (Naturally, Archie's family was outraged.) It took Dilton Doiley finding an obscure loophole in a very old, forgotten (but not repealed) law to pull the family out.
  • Pinky and the Brain: In Issue #43 of the Animaniacs comics, the Brain gets money by suing a tobacco company in spite of the fact he and Pinky don't smoke. Brain claims "the law has nothing to do with the facts".
  • Dallas Barr once suggests a lawsuit as part of a plan to get around a Longevity Treatment blacklist. It's so frivolous that "even with the judge in my pocket, I'd lose" but there's no actual need to win: thanks to the Cole law, starting the lawsuit is enough to trigger the right legal loophole. At the end of the novel, it's revealed Barr once served in Congress under the alias "Virgin Cole".

    Films — Animated 
  • A string of these set off the plot of The Incredibles. After one man wins a lawsuit blaming Mr. Incredible for injuries incurred while saving his life (since said man was trying to commit suicide), so many people follow that all superheroes are forced into retirement and hiding. Also a case of Artistic License – Law, as no mention is made of Good Samaritan Laws protecting the superheroes in these cases. (However, as MatPat suggests in corresponding theory, the lawsuit happens before Good Samaritan Laws were put in place.)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Babylon 5 Made-for-TV Movie River of Souls, a holographic entertainment operator attempts to sue the station with the help of an Ambulance Chaser who Captain Lochley refers to in those exact terms. At the end, she takes great pleasure at informing him that, since the business in question was destroyed in the course of the film's events, the grievance was now a moot point and he'd be going home empty-handed. Add to that, part of the lease agreement the owner signed waived rights to sue if damage is done to his property during the course of protecting the station itself, which Lochley has a dozen affidavits attesting to this fact.
  • It's implied that The Bad News Bears started out that way, as a parent—who just happened to be a lawyer—sued the league to get his son on a team. He got the parents of several other rejected children in on the lawsuit, and they ended up making the Bears to accommodate for them.
    Cleveland: Goddamn class action suits are gonna be the ruin of this country. It wasn't so bad when the courts made us take girls; at least the ones that came could play. But now this.
  • Older Than They Think entry: The Three Stooges try their hands at this once they hear of someone slipping in a hotel lobby and suing for thousands (this is before 1950, folks). Naturally, they find ways to fail at pratfalling before they find the owner of the hotel is herself impoverished.
  • The plot of the film The Man Who Sued God. The main character is a fisherman whose boat is destroyed by lightning, but he isn't allowed to claim damages from his insurance company because the lightning was "an act of God." So he sues God. (God is represented in court by clergymen.) In the end, the main character drops his lawsuit, but his efforts aren't in vain since he's won a moral victory. The clergymen then announce that they'll be suing the insurance companies for unauthorised use of their Lord's name.
  • In Liar Liar, Jim Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, an unscrupulous lawyer who, it is implied, specializes in these sorts of cases. One scene also cites the famous Urban Legend of the burglar who injures himself trying to break into a house and successfully sues the homeowner (in the film, it really happened — to a friend/relative of Fletcher's secretary).
  • Denial is about "historian" David Irving's Holocaust denial and his attempt to silence real historian Deborah Lipstadt from calling him a Holocaust denier via a frivolous libel lawsuit against her and her publishers, Penguin Books.

    Literature 
  • In My Sister's Keeper, one thing that attracts Anna to come to the Attorney Campbell to sue for bodily emancipation is Campbell's involvement in a case where a boy sued God for his injury.
  • This is the background to the toad in the Discworld novel The Wee Free Men. He was a lawyer who was employed by a woman to sue her fairy godmother, on the grounds she was promised health, wealth and happiness, and didn't feel particularly happy one day. The godmother's response was to turn him into a toad, and his client into a small hand mirror. The worst part, he says, was when the judge applauded.
    • This seems to be a common thing for magic-users, according to Going Postal:
      Archchancellor Ridcully: Oh, please sue the University. We've got a whole pond full of people who tried to sue the University!
  • Mr. Frankland, a minor character in The Hound of the Baskervilles, liked to sue people as a way of showing off his knowledge of law, including the more obscure points. He was particularly proud of getting one man convicted of trespassing on his own property.
  • Albert Haddock sometimes started these in AP Herbert's Misleading Cases in the Common Law. The intent was for Herbert to demonstrate how preposterous the law was, and it was sometimes suggested that that was why Haddock was doing it as well.
  • In Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Adrian's mother sues a shoe shop because the stilettos she bought there fell apart while she was climbing a mountain in them. To Adrian's surprise, she wins the case, when her lawyer successfully argues that the shop ("Shoe Mania!") should have removed the exclamation mark from its name so as not to excite hormonal middle-aged women into making rash purchases.
  • The Bible
    Isaiah 59:4: No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
  • Deconstructed in "Clubland Heroes", which first portrays the meaningfully named Peeter Blame as a petty man, constantly threatening legal action for trivial reasons, and by the end shows him as someone who was absolutely justified in many of his complaints, and was driven to despair by increasing evidence that while the law was on his side, the legal system wasn't.
  • The trial in Annie on My Mind is this through and through. The entire reason Liza and the two teachers are brought to trial is because a homophobic teacher catches Liza and Annie in Ms. Winthrop and Ms. Stevenson's house. The teachers lose their jobs, but the school trustees call the trial ludicrous and fire the corrupt principal.
  • The protagonist of The Dresden Files spent years dealing with harassing lawsuits from Larry Fowler after blowing out most of his talk show's electronics. Given that the only way to find him guilty was for a judge to accept the existence of magic, this mainly served to drain Dresden's bank accounts. This is possibly an inversion of the usual way this trope is played since the lawsuit is legally frivolous but morally quite sound; Harry's magic really did blow out all the electronics and cause some very expensive damage, and Harry went into the talk show knowing the risk of this but decided to go in anyway, and he (obviously) didn't give Fowler due warning that he was a real-life wizard who carried a high risk of accidentally destroying all the electronics. Based on this, Fowler actually seems quite justified in wanting compensation. However, in a further complication, Fowler himself presumably doesn't believe in magic, so to the best of his knowledge he is launching a frivolous lawsuit against Harry, and his accusations just happen to be true.
  • Carl Hiaasen has done this in several of his books.
    • In Skin Tight Mick's brother-in-law Kipper once represented a man who tripped over a rake on a golf course and sued while claiming 80% disability. Three days after filing the lawsuit the supposedly disabled man entered a 26-kilometer marathon and came in third place. Kipper was nearly disbarred as a result and is also mentioned as suing Mick for defamation due to some things Mick said while testifying against him.
    • The Sidekick in Striptease spends the entire book trying to arrange things so he can start one with some wealthy person/organization just so he can be given a large cash settlement to shut up. He starts out with a roach in his yogurt, and then a scorpion in a block of cheese but both times the food and the bug he placed inside it are lost before his lawsuit can reach the cash on the table stage. In the last chapter, he gets into a minor car accident on land owned by a sugar company and sues the property owners (who happen to be the Greater-Scope Villain's of the book), claiming wildly exaggerated injuries.
    • Boyd Shreave in Nature Girl once sued a shoe company he was working as a salesman for because while demonstrating the products he tripped and fell groin first into a cactus. The company argued that the shoes were designed for senior citizens and that Shreave had been violating company policy by trying to sell the shoes to a woman who'd lost the use of her feet. In the end, the jury ruled in Shreave's favor... and gave him less than $5.00, in order to buy a pair of tweezers to remove any lingering needles, and not a cent more.
    • Brock Richardson from Razor Girl is heavily implied to specialize in these. It's mentioned that Brock is used to exaggerated claims against the products he's suing. He's actually shocked to find out that one of them, a deodorant brand, really is as bad as it was built up to be (not the least because he's been using it himself and is already addicted to the increased libido that is the least unhealthy of the side effects).
  • The White-Dwarf Starlet actor Frederick Faversham in G. K. Chesterton's Paradoxes of Mr Pond story "The Crime of Captain Gahagan".
    He was now forgotten in the theatre and remembered only in the law-courts. A dark and crabbed man, still haggardly handsome, he had become famous, or familiar, as a sort of permanent litigant. He was eternally bringing actions against people whom he charged with trivial tricks and distant and disputable wrongs: managers and rivals and the rest.
  • The Christopher Anvil short story "The New Member" set in the Cold War era has the head of a small African island recently admitted to the United Nations demanding reparations from all European nations (plus plus the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand) in the equivalent of hundreds of billions of US dollars for crimes evil colonialists inflicted upon his people note . He does this in spite of the fact that no surviving records say which nations those evil traders actually came from and that all of this happened 400 years before North America was even discovered by the Europeans. The man's argument rests on how America is a melting pot of nations, and therefore the logic is that some of the people who settled it early on might have come from the unknown nations which looted his country all those centuries ago. In a case of Reality Ensues rearing its head (with hilarity not far behind), the demands by that island basically cause it to become a pariah of the international community and no one else at the U.N. gives the lawsuit any credence or respect. This in turn serves as a flimsy excuse for the nation's democratically-elected leader to whip his people into a frenzy and become a militant dictator, the island becomes a member of the Communist nations... and then when the island turns on its Chinese allies for not helping with the reparations, the Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Union also turn their backs on the island. The island's head diplomat announces his nation irrevocably severs their ties to the U.N., and then gets promptly arrested by the New York Police Department, since he's been wearing real severed human heads to the last few meetings he's attended. And all of the aforementioned events take place over a few months.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Archie Bunker tries to cook up a whiplash suit in "Oh My Aching Back", a first-season episode of All in the Family. Because of his unambiguous prejudices, he also insists on having a Jewish lawyer. He gets one but said lawyer senses the case isn't kosher and bails.
  • An episode of Babylon 5 has a short skit where a man sues a Vree (aliens that look like Greys and whose ships are flying saucers) because the Vree's great-grandfather abducted the man's great-grandfather and conducted experiments on him. The judge laments under his breath that he always seems to get these sort of cases.
    • Even more amusingly (from the things the judge says), it seems that there's actually a treaty between the Vree government and the Earth Alliance that governs exactly such cases, meaning that these cases must happen all the time in the B5 universe.
    • According to fluff, the Vree aren't the ones doing the abducting. It was most likely the Vorlons and the Streib (who look similar to the Vree but don't have flying saucers).
      • In this specific case, the man claimed to have found records proving it was the ancestor of the specific Vree he was suing.
  • Batman (1966): This is the plot of the pilot episode; the Riddler invokes this when he cleverly tricks the Dynamic Duo into falsely arresting him and then he sues Batman for a million dollars (in the sixties!). The point is not only the money (Bruce Wayne can afford it) but the fact that Batman must reveal his Secret Identity, which would ruin his Super Hero career.
  • On Becker, Becker is sued by his patient when Becker takes him to the gym for rehab purposes, and the patient suffers a heart attack as a result — even though Becker saves his life, and Becker was rehabilitating him in order to prevent an inevitable heart attack and accompanied him there for safety-purposes. Becker's insurance company wants to settle, and agrees to clear Becker of all liability and expense; however, Becker refuses on principle, even though it costs him considerable time, money, and harassment. He ends up managing to get the suit dismissed after a lengthy rant on the stand; however, his behaviour and personality has so antagonised the trial judge that she ends up throwing him in the slammer for contempt.
  • Happens in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies after a fender bender with some opportunists. During the trial, the unwitting hillbillies do very little to help their case until they accidentally divulge the fact that the guy suing them has a girlfriend on the side, at which point, his accomplice lets the cat out of the bag.note 
  • The Brady Bunch was once sued by a man who claimed whiplash in the wake of a collision with the Brady family car. His case was discredited in court when Mike deliberately dropped his briefcase on the floor behind the guy, whose prompt and obviously painless spin in place to face the noise demonstrated just how real his injuries were.
  • In an episode of Coach, Luther sues Hayden after burning his mouth on a hot-off-the-grill bratwurst at Hayden's barbecue. He nearly wins the lawsuit; however, the judge eventually decides that, as Hayden is merely a tenant, he is not liable; the owner of the property is. Since the owner is Luther's girlfriend and both men's boss, he immediately drops the suit before the verdict is officially announced.
  • An episode of CSI: NY revolved around the murder of a woman who made a living from multimillion-dollar Frivolous Lawsuits (for reasons many of which are implied to have been set up by herself). The murderer turns out to be a chef whose life she had completely destroyed and had recently gotten back on his feet...only for him to see her getting ready to pull the same stunt again at his new place of business. You almost feel bad for the guy.
  • Doctor Who: "The Runaway Bride" has a very mild example — Donna threatens to sue a cab driver who refuses to take her to her wedding in Chiswick...because neither she nor the Doctor is carrying any means of paying the fare.
  • In one episode of Frasier, a man in the coffeehouse takes Frasier's seat and acts very rudely to him. Frasier, who has been on the receiving end of much rudeness all day, finally snaps, lifts the man up by his armpits, and throws him out of the shop. The next day he goes back to the man to apologize, only for the man to sue for assault. Niles however starts insulting the man, goading him until he very lightly pokes Niles in the chest. Niles immediately throws himself into the nearest table and threatens to counter sue. Frasier is quickly persuaded to play along:
    Man: I barely touched him!
    Frasier: Then you admit you touched him! He admits it! You're all witnesses!
    • Interestingly, Niles is spot-on here. In common law, battery is any offensive touching. Assault can be either an attempted battery or placing someone in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm. You don't even need to touch someone to complete an assault and the guy poking Niles is a textbook definition of battery.
    • For added humor/irony value, Niles seems to convincingly fake pain as a result of this...only for him to privately admit to Frasier that in his exaggerated fall, he accidentally landed on a fork.
  • The Golden Girls: Blanche gets in a minor accident driving Rose's car and the man she rear-ended sues Rose.
  • In the Inside No. 9 episode "Love's Great Adventure", a character is mentioned to have sued a restaurant for serving olives that weren't already pitted for him.
  • JAG: Harmon Rabb is subjected to a traffic accident scam with an Ambulance Chaser in "Standards of Conduct."
  • The second season of Joan of Arcadia featured the title character's family being sued for "emotional damages" by the boy who caused the accident that paralyzed Joan's older brother. The lawsuit was dropped abruptly after an extended arc, and the character in question was never seen again.
  • Just Shoot Me!: In "Miss Pretty", Finch's friend Kurt (who he hires to pretend he's the titular advice columnist) is a scam artist with this method. Kurt gets free meals by threatening to sue upon "discovering" items like a rubber band in his food.
  • In an episode of Lois & Clark, a man pretends to be injured after Supes saves his life, helped by an Ambulance Chaser who thinks successfully suing Superman will make him famous. He even pretends to get further injury when Supes takes a bomb out of the court (through the roof), but then his girlfriend snaps and spills the truth.
  • Malcolm in the Middle's evil grandma does this after slipping on a leaf on the main character's front porch. She is forced to back down when her lawyer meets the family and decides that even if they took the family for everything his cut of the profits wouldn't be as much as he wanted.
  • Played with a bit on Married... with Children. After Bud and Kelly get into a fender bender with a Mercedes, Al bemoans society's litigiousness. But when Bud tells Al that the other guy was at fault, he immediately decides to sue, and has the children play up the severity (read: existence) of their injuries in court. And just to drive home the ridiculousness of the whole thing, it's mentioned in court that they're suing for "a jillion dollars."
    • In another episode, a burglar broke into the Bundy family home while Al was asleep on the couch. As Al woke up, he accidentally touched the burglar on the behind, before realizing what was going on and pummeling the burglar. He was later sued by the burglar for "sexual harassment" and being unable to "work", claiming that Al's punch ruined his career as a burglar, greatly exaggerating his injuries, this along with obvious signs that the burglar's attorney was having a relationship with the judge, and even tried to shake Al's hand with the one in said sling after he won. However, Al got the last laugh when he decked the burglar again, and won a Frivolous Lawsuit of his own by claiming he hurt his hand on the burglar's face.
    • In another episode, a thief entered the shoe store where Al works and Jefferson suggested Al could sue the mall for four million dollars, claiming the incident made him afraid of shoes. The mall sent an investigator who kept an eye on Al. To make matters worse, Al's bowling team were finalists in a tournament and the bowling hall wouldn't let him play barefoot because the last one to do so there sued the place for three million dollars. Eventually, Al decided the championship was more important than money.
    • In another episode, Peggy sees a TV ad about a lawyer who helped a woman to get 2.5 million dollars from her husband for asking her to cook. Peggy tries it with Al by volunteering to cook but Al is so focused on some idea he refuses the offer and the lawsuit idea goes unmentioned for the rest of the episode.
    • Jefferson once fell inside Al's workplace when a wall gave in. Jefferson's claims of injury ended as soon as Al stated they had no insurance.
  • M*A*S*H has several examples of frivolous court-martial attempts. In The Trial of Henry Blake, Henry has to defend himself against gurney races, and Radar selling shoes and other things. General Steele brings in several charges against Hawkeye, including impersonating a civilian (The General Flipped at Dawn). In The Novocaine Mutiny, Frank charges Hawkeye with mutiny for disobeying some idiotic orders. In all cases, all the charges are dropped.note 
    • Oddly, in M*A*S*H, the episodes containing legal issues only come about when key characters usually aren't guilty. For example, when Hawkeye is tried for mutiny, it's a case where he was doing what was best for the patients. He's never tried for the many mutinies he actually commits or the times he fails to obey lawful orders.
    • Along the same lines, Radar has a run-in (pun intended) with an elderly Korean man known as "Whiplash Wang". He lost his farm because of the war, so now he fakes traffic accidents and demands money from the military drivers. The situation is played for laughs, but the motivation certainly is not.
  • McHale's Navy: In one of the Italian episodes, the local mayor threatens to file a large claim for exuberant damages against the Navy after they wreck his fishing boat (which was old and falling apart anyway, and which the mayor and his crony deliberately pushed into the path of the PT-73 as it was backing out of the dock). Unusually for the trope, they aren't actually trying to win the case, but merely have the leverage to blackmail McHale into using the PT-73 as a fishing boat for the village.
  • Monk: Corrupt Corporate Executive Dale J. Biederbeck III, also known as Dale the Whale and The Genghis Khan of World Finance sued Monk's late wife Trudy in the past for giving him that second nickname in a newspaper article. Dale cheerfully admits that he knew he couldn't win the case but he used his billions to draw out the litigation and inconvenience. He kept this up until the Monk's had to sell their house, which Dale bought and uses to store his pornography collection.
  • Murder, She Wrote:
    • Jessica is subjected to a $50 million wrongful death in "Trails and Tribulations", with the Amoral Attorney expecting her insurance company will settle out-of-court for $1 million. He doesn't figure on Jessica's stubbornness.
    • In "Armed Response" Jessica is lightly whacked by a revolving door at the airport and the lawyer with her unsuccessfully tries to get her to sue for damages.
    • In the pilot Jessica is served a subpoena from a woman claiming to be the original author of Jessica's book. Said woman is mentioned as having tried the same scam with several other authors.
  • In Only Fools and Horses episode "Hole in One", Del Boy decides to sue the Nag's Head after Uncle Albert falls into its cellar, despite the fact that he incurred no injury (they base the suit on emotional damages) and the Nag's Head offered Del a large settlement. The suit ends up being thrown out when the defense points out that Albert is a trained paratrooper (thus having knowledge of how to fall without injuring himself) and that he has "accidentally" fallen down pub cellars numerous times in the past, and taken the settlements.
  • The Partridge Family: In "The Sound of Money," Shirley accidentally rear-ends a car with the tour bus. There's no damage, but once the driver realizes the family is in show business, he pretends to have injured his back and sues the family for $500,000. Danny enlists Reuben's help in tricking the man into bending over so he can take a picture of it and prove he's lying.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit!: An episode arguing against requirements for handicapped access uses as evidence the example of a handicapped man who would sue commercial shops en masse for not providing him with handicapped access. It would cost more to fight him than to pay the low damages he requested, netting him quite a hefty amount of money. He apparently hadn't even visited many of the stores he claimed to have attempted to enter, because some of them did have handicapped access.
  • Steve Bosell from The Phil Hendrie Show regularly sues anyone and anything for any slight, no matter how minor. For example, when his oh so hated neighbor cracks a joke at Steve's expense (often warranted), Steve not only sues him but his son for laughing at the joke. If he was only in the presence of his neighbor because his wife asked him to, say, pick up groceries or trim the hedges, he will sue her for putting him in a dangerous position. The number of lawsuits Steve filed over the course of the show are innumerable, and every one as inane as the last.
  • In the Sanford and Son episode "Whiplash", Fred ends up getting rear-ended by a white man in Cadillac. He isn't injured, but when his friend Bubba tells him that a friend of his sued for injuries from whiplash injuries, he decides to fake being injured to the point of filing a false police report, getting "advice" from an Ambulance Chaser and finally confronting the hit-and-run driver himself. It all comes crashing down when the driver turns out to be a car thief who stole the Cadillac.
  • Parodied by Saturday Night Live ads for the law firm of Green & Fazio ("Call 1-800-HARASSS. The extra "S" is for extra harassment!").
  • Seinfeld had the Ambulance Chaser Jackie Chiles (an obvious parody of Johnnie Cochran) in at least three cases of this. Every time, he wound up humiliated due to Kramer acting stupid and ignoring his legal advice.
    • In "The Postponement", Kramer sues a coffee chain for burning himself with hot coffee. In the next episode "The Maestro", we meet Jackie Chiles for the first time as Kramer settles the case for free coffee for life, passing up a large cash award in his stupidity.
      Company Representative: We're prepared to offer you free coffee for life, and—
      Kramer: I'll take it!
    • In "The Caddy", Kramer and Elaine sue a woman for "distracting" Kramer while he was driving because she was wearing only a bra top. Jackie Chiles' remark that a bra has to fit "like a glove" is a reference to the O.J. Simpson trial. Kramer's stupidity was again the cause of losing this case since Jackie had it in the bag when he insisted on checking to see if the bra would fit her.
    • In another episode, Kramer turns his apartment into a cigar bar/smoking room, and the cumulative effects of hours upon hours of concentrated smoke make his skin pallid. They sue the tobacco companies and settle for making Kramer the new Marlboro Man.
      Jackie Chiles: This is the most public yet of my many humiliations.
  • On Silicon Valley, Erlich gets attacked by one of the Techcrunch judges during Pied Piper's first presentation, for sleeping with his wife in part one of the season 1 finale. The second part opens with Pied Piper being allowed to continue because Erlich threatened to sue Techcrunch for allowing the judge to attack him.
  • In an episode of Smallville, Clark beats up a guy for attempting to sexually assault Lana, but the man sues him for his injuries. Clark's X-Ray Vision shows him that the jerk isn't even injured, but he can't tell anybody that. (Apparently Clark's lawyer didn't think of asking for doctor's records, including more conventional X-rays.)
  • In Spin City, Paul was sued for being shot, and lost. The shooting was an accident caused by an elderly security guard recklessly firing his gun and hitting Paul. As a result, the security guard ends up losing his job, which Paul ends up getting blamed for, and the security guard sues. To make Paul even more of a Cosmic Plaything, everyone sides with and feels sorry for the guard (including Paul's own co-workers), and the jury ends up making Paul pay him twice what he was suing for.
  • Spitting Image portrayed media tycoon Robert Maxwell this way, in a spoof where he sings his own riff on "Puttin' on the Ritz".
    When I'm feeling in the mood / Someone out there will be sued / I'll nail those gits! / I'm putting out the writs!
    When writers try to criticize / In bios I've not authorized / I'll axe those crits / By putting out the writs!
    Of taking legal action I am weary / So I've only served six writs since January!
    When they put these tales about / I just have to squeeze them out / like little zits / I'm putting out the writs!
  • The West Wing has the President getting sued over his comments regarding car seatbelts.
  • In Season 5 of Boston Legal, Catherine Piper (Betty White) comes in wanting to file some lawsuits out of boredom. Carl shoots all her ideas down for being frivolous until she proposes suing TV networks for not having any programming for older people, since he's old and doesn't find anything on TV appealing. Luckily for them, the judge, also an older gentleman, is sympathetic to their case.

    Magazines 
  • Parodied in a MAD article that details the rise and fall of an advertising campaign, specifically one for a fictitious fast-food chain called McDimples. The chain sues a night club with male strippers for using their campaign's new and popular catchphrase, only to learn that said club has been using it for ten years. After being forced to pay a $5 million settlement when counter-sued, they fire their lawyers.

    Music 
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "I'll Sue Ya" is about a guy who does this. Lyrics include:
    If I sprain my ankle while I'm robbing your place
    If I hurt my knuckles when I punch you in the face
    I'm gonna sue! Sue! Yes, I'm gonna sue!
    Sue! Sue! Yeah, that's what I'm gonna do!
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "You Saw My Blinker" tells the story of Will being rear-ended and sued by a half-blind 90-year-old woman who shows up to court in a wheelchair and a neck brace.
  • Busdriver's Suing Sony.
    I'm suing Sony due to defamation of a character from a fictional character that was based on meeee...

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Probable Ur-Example: an Egyptian myth about a thief who breaks into a house via a window, but breaks his leg because of the window's shoddy construction. The homeowner blames the carpenter who put the window together, the carpenter blames a beautiful woman who distracted him, and the woman blames the fellow who dyed her dress red. That dress-dyer doesn't fit in a cell, so a shorter dress-dyer is hauled in, and he can't come up with an excuse to get out. The focus, incidentally, is not on the burglar, but on how crazy the judge authorizing it all is.
    • A variation exists where the last man recommends hanging the thief, the thief is too tall to hang, so a shorter man is brought. The man recommends digging a hole below the thief's feet. The thief urges them to hurry so that he'll be able to get to heaven soon because a king is needed there... So the local king (who's also the crazy judge) orders himself hanged.
  • In the Book of Isaiah, part of the reason for God's anger at the Israelites is that "no one brings suit justly, no one pleads truthfully."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In U.S. Acres, when Orson read the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears and asked if any of the listeners knew what she did after trying the too hot and the too cold bowls of porridge, Lanolin suggested she sued the bears.
  • In one arc of Non Sequitur, Danae tries to sue the state for allowing her teacher to flunk her. The judge throws out the case after calling it the second stupidest thing he'd ever heard.
    Danae's dad: Okay, I'll bite. What was the stupidest?
    Danae: That there's no shortage of lawyers willing to take the case.

    Radio 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In the episode Mr. Travers' Three Acre Lot. Mr. Conklin literally sets Miss Brooks up for a fall so he can sue Mr. Travers' and force the sale of the eponymous lot.

    Video Games 
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, several of the adverts you can hear on the radio are political broadcasts for a fictional Republican senator. The first two imply his Democratic opponent has committed vehicular homicide (on the basis he owns a car of the type responsible for one in the area) and child pornography (on the basis he has not yet stated his opinion on the subject). When he sues the Republican, a third ad notes the Democrat had previously claimed to be against clogging up the courts with frivolous lawsuits, and implies he is a hypocrite ("Would you want your children to become hypocrites? Vote Republican candidate Robert Thorne, the candidate not accused of being a murderous child pornographer!")
  • In Amateur Surgeon, Insurance Fraud Claude makes his fortune by using things in horribly self-destructive ways (for example, drinking paint and shooting himself with a nail gun), the suing the manufacturers for not providing explicit, idiot-proof warnings. After removing several nails and patching the man up properly, Alan notes in the medical journal that they better get Claude out of there quickly before he tries to sue them too.

    Web Comics 
  • In Nip and Tuck, a lawsuit against snack food companies is stopped by the observation that no one would sell them any more snacks.
  • In Elf Only Inn, Megan decides to sue McDonald's after learning that french fries are prepared with beef-based products (she's vegan). McDonald's, after being sued for a whole array of ridiculous charges (including the infamous hot coffee incident), decides to settle by offering a total of $100B to be evenly distributed among anyone in the world who admits to being too stupid to know better. Subverted hilariously when Megan, after receiving her settlement payout of $0.30, does the math to prove that she was short-changed, then writes a letter to McDonald's accusing them of the fact - to which they reply that as she is obviously not stupid, she must return her settlement payout or face legal actions for fraud.
  • Kevin & Kell: A bear attacks Kevin, who easily backhands him. The bear responds by suing Kevin, claiming that, as a rabbit, he violated the natural order by fighting back and demanding Kevin's weight in meat. Mei Li gets the case thrown out by pointing out that the bear using the judicial system to attack Kevin is equally unnatural.
  • In the Stand Still, Stay Silent prologue, a man finding out that the ferry he's riding will not be making the return trip from the Bornholm island in Denmark because of a governmental decision to halt boat traffic threatens to sue all the boat's waiters if they don't make the captain turn it back while it's still on the way to its destination.
  • League of Super Redundant Heroes: Good Girl gets a power-up that makes her look more archetypally angelic, and finds herself sued by Religion for trademark infringement.

    Web Original 
  • The old flash series Attention Deficit Disorder Man featured Lawsuit Larry, a supervillain who took control over hundreds of organizations by injuring himself on their premises and suing them into oblivion. In the end, he managed to sue and control entire countries; the only way ADD Man was able to defeat him was by making him injure himself from his own products, giving him nobody to sue but himself.
  • Most of the cases in The Sonic Amigos sub-series Retard Court starring Homer Simpson end up being this.
  • The woman in this story from Not Always Legal gets slightly cut by the slide on the gun she's using at the range and tries to sue for injury. When presented with the liability waiver she'd signed to indicate that she had gun training, the woman insists that everybody lies on those things. Then her lawyer takes one look at the waiver and walks out.

    Western Animation 
  • The New Batman Adventures parodied this with an unnamed Johnnie Cochran lookalike popping up to say a catchy line to support a lawsuit. In the commentary for one such episode, the creators note how dated the joke wound up being.
    • In "Over the Edge", Batman's identity is exposed. Minor villains launch a billion-dollar lawsuit against Wayne Enterprises. JC pops in: "If the bat's on a spree, Wayne must pay the fee!"
    • When the Joker somehow acquired vast wealth in "Joker's Millions", he used high-powered lawyers to get acquitted of his various crimes (clearly referencing Cochran's most famous case): "If a man's filled with glee, that man must go free!"
  • Subverted in Clerks: The Animated Series. Jay slips on a wet mess that Randall left on the floor, and Randall taunts him about it. "What are you going to do, sue?" Right on cue, a lawyer walks in to buy some conveniences- but when Randall (yes, Randall) asks him to take on the case, he refuses and leaves. Randall then begins a concerted campaign of harassment until the lawyer finally gives in and agrees to take on the case- against Dante, since he was the store manager at the time.
    • At trial, the lawyer doesn't even show any significant effort, presenting the bare facts of the case without any grandstanding. Unfortunately, Dante still ends up looking really bad because his boss hired Randall (yes, Randall), who presents an incompetent defense.
  • In an episode of The Boondocks, Riley and his grandpa sue the school after Riley's teacher uses the N-word to refer to Riley, just the same as Riley had been throwing it around at everyone else, with fantasies of getting a large sum of money.
  • Happens in the early The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Hit by a Car". Mr. Burns accidentally hits Bart with his limo; the family attorney 'tricks' Homer into exaggerating the resulting injuries to squeeze more money from Burns.
    Lionel Hutz: Doctor, are you sure there isn't a little soft tissue trauma in the facial area?
    Dr. Nick: Oh yeah, tons of it! [wrapping Bart's head with bandages] Just say when!
    • The irony being they would have gotten something, at least covering Bart's hospital bill as Marge wanted, if they had just told the truth at trial rather than make up false claims. Or if Homer had just taken the half-million Burns had offered him and went home - they ended up with nothing because Homer was greedy.
    • There is also Homer vs. an 'all you can eat' seafood restaurant in "New Kid on the Block." If they kick Homer out before he has had 'all he can eat,' does this make it fraudulent publicity?
      • He stays hours past closing time (he was kicked out because the personnel wanted to go home), forces them to make runs to the grocery store, and eats far more than any thoughtful person would (he emptied the restaurant's entire food stock several times over). 'All you can eat' does not mean 'you can/have to eat it all.' This one ends up getting settled out-of-court; they invite him back, but set Homer up in a glass display and let all the people gawk at him pigging out. It draws boatloads of customers who came to watch, but then decide to try the food — because this restaurant has to be pretty good if he's eating like that.
      • Hutz also mentions in that episode that he sued The NeverEnding Story for false advertising.
    • Selma has claimed that she has a lucrative hobby filing 'nuisance lawsuits'.
    • Deconstructed in one of the frequent 'future episodes'. Bart is an unemployed loser who frequently files these to make a quick buck, but it's deconstructed in that none of his ridiculous cases (among them: suing a restaurant for an over-salted french fry, Disneyland for a spider bite received on the premises, and a messenger company for refusing to pay him for his first two weeks of employment) ever goes to court, and it's implied Bart can't find a lawyer to take them all.
    • One time Moe was able to sue a rope company when the rope that he was using to hang himself was weak, he won the case, got a good sum out of it, and a brand new rope with which to hang himself.
    • Once, Homer trips over a hole in the ground next to the church and so sues the church. There is no way that Rev. Lovejoy could afford the sum he wants so he wins the church in court.
    • In "Lisa the Simpson", one of the dozen or so of Homer's relatives that he gathers claims he makes a living by insurance-fraud lawsuits.
    • The Blue-Haired Lawyer who works for Mr. Burns is usually smart enough to avoid something like this, but when he becomes too immoral and threatens to sue Principal Skinner for copyright violation (Springfield Elementary's carnival uses Disney's catchphrase "The Happiest Place on Earth" — just consider that for a minute) Skinner shows them what happens when you make a former Green Beret mad. "Copyright expired", Skinner says after handily taking out the lawyers.
  • South Park:
    • In "Sexual Harassment Panda", Kyle's dad (a lawyer) encourages a string of frivolous sexual harassment suits that culminates in a suit called "Everyone vs. Everyone". In which he represented both sides.
    • In "200", Tom Cruise sues the town for mocking him, and recruits the help of every celebrity who has ever been portrayed on the show, all because Stan called him a fudge packer when that is what he was doing. Literally: he was working at a candy factory, packing fudge into boxes, while wearing the uniform of an employee of that company.
  • Downplayed in one episode of Spongebob Squarepants. While Plankton is faking the injuries he claims to have received from slipping on the wet floor of the Krusty Krab, he really did slip on said floor, and there was no "Wet Floor" sign to warn him of the hazard because Mr. Krabs was too cheap to buy one (something the jury acknowledges in its verdict). Plankton would, therefore, have a legitimate case... if not for the fact that he was only there to commit a felony (i.e. stealing the Krabby Patty formula). Once SpongeBob proves this in court, Krabs is found not guilty.
  • Happened both ways on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. Harry slips on a dropped piece of butter in a restaurant and falls down. The restaurant owners are heavily insured, and out of fear of Harry filing a lawsuit, they offer him a settlement. Harry doesn't want to take it citing the fact he didn't injure himself, but his honesty is not respected by his family and neighbors who try to pressure him into taking the easy cash being offered. Later on, Harry becomes the defendant when a bicyclist crashes into his stopped car and decides to sue him. His lawyer (Special Guest Don Adams) is particularly inept and Harry is only saved from a losing judgment when the plaintiff suddenly decides to drop the case.
  • On My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Principal Pixiefrog's fear of lawsuits often either drove or exacerbated the wacky hijinks of the episode.
  • King of the Hill:
    • The character Lucky was initially disliked because he entirely sustained himself on frivolous lawsuits and refused to get a job. When we first meet him, he's just bought himself a new truck with money taken from "slippin' on pee-pee on th' Costco." When picked up by an ambulance, he even knows the exact amount of morphine to be given that will dull his pain without damaging his ability to testify. In the original Grand Finale, Lucky accidentally gets injured in Dale's housenote  so he can sue him so he can have an expensive wedding with Luanne. It turns out that Dale built the railing himself—without a permit, makes his own poison (he's an exterminator), is his own boss, and made up a fake liability insurance carrier just to shut Hank up. Lucky's lawyer tries to sue Strickland Propane because Hank suggested that Dale hire Lucky.
      • Lucky later manages to turn this around. After the lawyer refuses to drop the case due to "malpractice reasons", Lucky fakes a video of him playing golf, thus making his suit void. The lawyer tried to "unfake" it to get the suit through, but Lucky manages to get "injured" again in the lawyer's office. Hank promptly threatens to take the case - now against that lawyer - to one of his colleagues, and his threat looks fairly credible as all of the other lawyers in the building are almost lining up in the hall to take it.
    • In another episode, Dale sues the tobacco companies, lying to claim that years of secondhand smoke have made his wife unattractive and destroyed his marriage. When he discovers that the company has (electronic) bugs planted in his house, he tries to exploit it by insulting Nancy at every opportunity, which completely destroys her self-esteem and nearly does destroy their marriage (he didn't tell Nancy what he was doing because she's a bad actress). When Dale finally figures out what he's doing, he cross-examines himself and convinces everyone that he still finds Nancy gorgeous. Ironically, he was suing to get money for Nancy so she could get cosmetic surgery.
  • The Gravedale High episode "Monster on Trial" featured old lady Fresno, who cried whiplash after her car was slightly nudged by Reggie during driving lessons, and sued Max Schneider for a million dollars. Turns out she did that 8 times already, but always wins anyway. She wins the case this time too (entering in a wheelchair), but the case finally gets overturned when she tries the same trick in a minor collision with the judge. So when a plaintiff gets into an accident involving the judge of a previous case, that judge is allowed to declare the lawsuit against himself and his old court ruling void.
    • Fresno also ran a red light when Reggie and Frankentyke chase her through Midtown, so karma nipped her in the bud.
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Fly Burgers", Rocko swats a fly named Flecko while cooking burgers. Flecko sees an ad on TV saying how he can make money by suing someone... and he sues Rocko. Rocko is sentenced to 30 days... as a fly. Until the judge sees Flecko at a fancy restaurant, completely uninjured, and turns Rocko back.
  • In the Futurama movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder", Bender is caught in an explosion on Zapp Brannigan's ship, and screams that he can't feel his arms and will never be able to paint again. Kif tells him in a weary voice that you can't sue the military, and Bender gets up.
  • Joe Adler, a recurring incompetent lawyer on Beavis And Butthead, specializes in this (with Beavis and Butthead's help). In the episode "Sexual Harrassment," he decides to sue Beavis and Butthead's classmate Kimberly (as well as their high school and teacher) for giving the boys erections. In the episode "Whiplash," he decides to sue the city and the state for an obviously false case of whiplash (which he helps to create the illusion of) and is arrested for dozens of counts of fraud.
  • Courtney from Total Drama. Her first lawsuit wasn't so unjustified (fellow competitor Harold rigged the votes against her, sending her home instead, and the host of the show didn't care even when the ruse was revealed), but she also bargained for unfair advantages (most notably contact with the outside world via her PDA) along with reentry into the second season. Once she was back in the game, she threatened to sue the producers again every time something didn't go her way. Her lawyers eventually got fed up with her litigious behavior and stopped returning her calls.
  • In the Sonic Boom episode, "Don't Judge Me", Dr. Eggman spends most of the episode in a neck brace, claiming Sonic injured his neck in a battle between them, and attempting to sue him over it. He very nearly gets away with it, too, until Sonic notices him move his neck just fine and points it out near the end of the episode.
  • Pinky and the Brain: In one episode, Brain tries to get money for a plan by getting a job and fake an accident to sue his employer for. Brain pretends to be a human who was turned into a mouse because of an accident he suffered at his workplace and the judge rules in the defendant's favor not because Brain was already a mouse before the "accident" but because the defendant's lawyer convinces the judge that Brain isn't a mouse.
  • A skit from Robot Chicken Star Wars II has an ad for Bob Goldstein, who helps those injured by the "Jeddy", including the Wampa, Ponda Baba, and Darth Maul.

 
Feedback

Video Example(s):

Top

I'll Sue Ya

This song by Weird Al is about someone suing companies for things that are largely his own fault.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / FrivolousLawsuit

Media sources:

Main / FrivolousLawsuit

Report