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Hilarity Sues

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"This is obviously an example of vigilantism at its worst."
"I'd call it vigilantism at its best!"
The Tick has trouble in court

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).

Played straight in a number of places, especially in The Dark Age of Comic Books or against a Villain with Good Publicity. Several Elseworld series are based on this.

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 to be confused with Parody Sue.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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...
  • Tony Stark is renown for suing smaller, independent super teams over the use of the "Avengers" name. His victims include amongst others the Great Lakes Avengers and the Mighty Avengers (2013). This bit him in the ass when through some convoluted events he lost the trade mark, which then reverted to the only other person ever applying for it... Flatman of the GLA, who was only willing to give it up if he and his team of Super Zeroes can be an official Avengers branch forever, which leads to more hilarity suing as the Avengers' long suffering lawyer tried to minimize the embarrassment caused by them.
  • Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!: The trope gets weaponized. At the beginning of the 2007 Revival miniseries Captain Carrot and the Final Ark, Rodney Rabbit (the titular Captain Carrot's Secret Identity) tells a convention of comic fans that the Justa Lotta Animals (a Funny Animal Alternate Universe counterpart of the Justice League of America) put out an injunction preventing the Earth-C version of DC Comics from publishing their adventures. This actually becomes a plot point later in the miniseries. When the Zoo Crew is depowered and unable to call the JLA for assistance by normal means, Captain Carrot very quickly writes and draws a JLA comic and then sells it to his teammate Fastback for a nickel — and a lawyer immediately emerges from a dimensional portal with a Cease and Desist notice. (The lawyer does agree to ask his clients for help — after making Rodney go through a mountain of paperwork.)

    Fan Works 
  • Ultimate Video Rumble: At the end of the second Rumble, after several Evil Plans result in massive destruction and injury across the Rumble node, the Rumble organizers are nonetheless able to break even by suing Rugal Bernstein, as the deepest pocket available.
    • Turnabout is fair play, and Thanos ultimately sues the organizers for the loss of most of the Infinity Gems over the course of the third Rumble.
  • A dramatic example in Conversations with a Cryptid as Inko sues Yuuei for criminal negligence after Izuku is kidnapped while living in the dorms and Recovery Girl for medical malpractice for her unlicensed and uninformed medical treatment of Izuku. For the criminal negligence suit, Inko gets the backing of another woman whose child died in one of Yuuei's exam. For the medical malpractice suit, Inko has the backing of the Japanese Medical Association! The lawsuit brings Yuuei to its knees.

    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 II: 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: The Movie, 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!" Thanks to their new Kelda, whose own original clan DOES have lawyers and reading, they're starting to get their own lawyers as well.
    • 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. Less fortunately, Fowler just keeps trying, book after book. Even when Harry doesn't lose the case, all the court fees pile up. Of course, given Harry's Destructive Saviour tendencies he should thank his questionably-lucky stars this is the only thing he gets sued for.
  • 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."

    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.
  • A well-received episode of the live action adaptation of The Tick (2001) involved the eponymous character having a nuclear weapon excluded as evidence against Destroyo because he took it without a warrant.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Starcrash", Tom Servo zips in as BB-Servo, an amalgam of himself and BB-8. During a scene shift to Moon 13, Lucasfilm crashed the Satellite of Love and forced Tom to stop. When we revisit our heroes, Jonah's comforting Tom as he's putting him back together as we find out that they'd threaten to smash his dome if they didn't.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Grail" has a side gag involving the great-grandson of a man who was dismissed as crazy for claiming to be an Alien Abduction victim, who found solid evidence in the historical archives of a race humans had recently entered diplomatic relations with... and then sued the abductor's great-grandson for damages.
  • Even Hill Street Blues got in on this once, when Lieutenant Hunter falls down the stairs to the precinct house's basement and suffers a head injury, becomes convinced that he's been kidnapped by Communist agents (It Makes Sense in Context) and ends up attacking and taking hostage a man who's supposed to be servicing the boiler. Once both have been rescued from this ludicrous predicament and are being taken to County Medical, Captain Furillo remarks to Detective Caitano that they'd better let City Hall know what's happened.
    Ray: "Civil suit?"
    Frank: "Big one."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "rough copy", Strong Bad threatens to sue a sender named Malinko "into the Middle Ages" for drawing "a few comics" of Strong Bad and The Cheat. When Malinko's promised "rough copy" turns out to be a pair of crude scribbles that look nothing like Strong Bad, he and The Cheat dress up in balls of barbed wire in order to better resemble Malinko's terrible drawings. Unfortunately, Strong Sad shows up to point out that they're now the ones infringing on Malinko's "highly intellectual property", and "counter-sues" by throwing snow balls at Strong Bad and The Cheat.

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Additionally, two villains (a mind flayer, and Drizz't Do'Urden knock-off Zz'dtri) are pulled away from the comic by lawyers for violating copyrights.
    • And Belkar used it to great effect against the Jerkass Paladin Miko in this strip
    • Subverted by Windstriker's restraining order, however...
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Part of the basic concept of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.
  • Inverted in Transformers: Animated. After the Headmaster commits Grand Theft Me with Sentinel Prime Captain Fanzone is 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)note , and any damage done was to his own company's boat. Therefore, the police couldn't charge him with anything. Powell's words were used against him in a later episode: After Optimus and Grimlock go to Sumdac Tower to get an old piece of equipment, he tries to have them arrested. Fanzone smugly responds by saying that, since they're aliens, they aren't beholden to humanity's laws.
  • 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, as well as skimping on the wet floor sign to save money. 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, and the only reason he showed up to the Krusty Krab that day was to try and steal the formula for the umpteenth time.
  • 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 plaintiff are all their past villains.
  • Happens a few times in The Venture Brothers, 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.)