I used to get made fun of as a kid. I was the one who came to school with a backpack as big as I was, filled to its capacity with school supplies. From pencils to gauze pads (just in case my pencil slipped when writing notes and I cut my hand, of course), I had it all tucked nicely into my scoliosis maker. I blamed it on my mom. I told my snickering peers that she was overprotective and I had to lug around my “just in case” bag to keep her off my back. But really, it was all me. I was the epitome of a boy scout – always prepared no matter what situation I was in. It was in my blood, and still is.
I know a thing or two about competition. I was sixteen, playing volleyball for my high school team. Things were pretty intense; the teams were neck-and-neck. The other team bumped, set and spiked!....right into my face. My face burned from a mixture of humiliation and pain and my ears rung, thankfully masking the sound of the other team’s fans cheering from the stands. I blinked, dazed, wondering if my face would appear permanently smashed after this experience. I was angry, but even though my team was losing and I had been injured, I never thought of retribution. The same cannot be said for John Levi Miller, a former professional wrestler who is currently suing an old opponent for kicking him in the crotch hard enough to cause his testicles to rupture, resulting in one of them having to be removed. Ouch! And I thought I knew what being competitive was all about.
Frivolous litigation is essentially lawsuits that have no legal merit - no legal sense – and usually little chance of being won. These kinds of cases typically seem so ridiculous that most people can’t help but snicker when they hear about them; like suing the restaurant where you dropped your coffee on yourself and got burned. Other examples of such trivial pursuits include football fans who sued referees, fathers prepared to litigate over their fifteen-year-olds’ positions on high school athletic teams, a purchaser of Cracker Jacks who demanded damages for a missing prize, and a McDonald’s customer who sought $15,000 for damage to his teeth and marital relations caused by a defective bagel.
Every business knows it has to watch its bottom line, its profit margins, its vendor relationships, its break even points, and its fixed and variable costs. And at night when the world finally goes quiet, good employers are still thinking about their quarterly goals and their fiscal projections. But according to 2010 statistics what should actually be keeping employers up at night is how liable their company is to litigation. And not only their company, but themselves, personally. Statistics released by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show that record-breaking discrimination charges were filed in 2010 on behalf of US employees. The increase marked a 7.1% growth over 2009, and the highest number since 1965. Retaliation claims were up 7.9% over 2009. Disabilities discrimination claims were up 17%. Racial discrimination claims were up 6.9%. And the list goes on.
No one wants to get into trouble. Nobody wakes up and thinks, “Boy. Today, I think I’d like to test the limits of my legal and insurance coverage. Honey? Get the 4-wheelers out! We’re going to test them out on that golf course.” Trouble is a thing that pops up when least expected. The trick to taking care of trouble is making sure that as many of these little gaps as possible are not problem areas. Without being alarmists, it can be surprising the things that American adults can be found personally liable for. A large lawsuit can boil down to something simple like: