A case that caused me concern

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

I read about a lawsuit recently that was filed here in the Cook County Circuit Court. I normally reserve judgment about civil lawsuits but this was still on my mind today. I am not privy to all of the details, allegations or back story. I just have a weird taste in my mouth from this lawsuit.  I am sure I am not the only one judging by how the media has picked up on it.

The lawsuit was filed by two adult siblings against their mother for essentially what the Circuit Court judge described as “bad mothering.”

Some of the allegations against the defendant mother included: failing to include check or cash in birthday cards, failing to send care packages and asking her daughter to come home at midnight after a homecoming celebration.

The court dismissed the lawsuit. The siblings who were in part represented by their father, an attorney, appealed the dismissal to the Appellate Court. Recently the appellate court dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit finding that to rule in favor of them “could potentially open the floodgates to subject family child rearing to excessive judicial scrutiny and interference.”  Essentially the conduct complained of did not rise to the level of the extreme and outrageous standard in emotional distress suits.

A part of me wants to believe the lawsuit had sufficient legal and factual support prior to filing it. Seeing that two courts found it not the case, I am left wondering.  While these media grabbing lawsuits are in the minority, the effects on society can be longstanding. Hot coffee anyone?

These stories become embedded and entrenched in our culture. Frivolous or not, the damage and fall-out are very real consequences of these attention grabbing lawsuits.  These lawsuits become ammunition for people who already believe lawsuits are nothing more than a grab for monetary compensation from those who have done nothing wrong.  The people who sometimes hold these beliefs are the same people who serve on our juries. As a plaintiff’s attorney, guaranteeing equal access to the courthouse and a level playing field for all litigants is something we strive for day in and day out. That becomes very difficult to do when we carry with us the stigma of lawsuits which make the news for no reason other than they make for compelling stories.

It’s almost as if we have become conditioned and even used to the idea that lawsuits are frivolous. The idea that medical malpractice lawsuits drive doctors to other states is another real consequence of media attention. While untrue, people use this as a basis for tort reform and caps which hurt us all. What rarely gets reported on are the justified battles fought on behalf of aggrieved parties on a daily basis.  Perhaps the only way to combat these perceptions is to be aware of these stereotypes so pervasive in our society, and to have a good understanding to intelligently refute them.

I still hear about the McDonald’s coffee spill case. Knowing the actual facts about the case has helped educate people with the wrong information. As attorneys we can all stand to gain by being informed.  Otherwise we all lose something.

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