Frivolous Defenses in Lawsuits: Defending the Indefensible
Rather than accepting responsibility for their wrongful conduct and fairly compensating injured people or their families, insurance companies, corporations and other wrongdoers frequently deny timely justice to those injured or killed due to negligence by stalling and wrongfully delaying settlements in claims.
These tactics needlessly prolong cases, waste courts’ time and cost taxpayers money. By raising frivolous defenses and defending the indefensible, these wrongdoers put profits ahead of people who are suffering and often are in dire financial straits because they are no longer able to work and earn a living due to others’ negligent conduct.
- Injured people commonly cannot afford to wait three to five years for a case to be resolved and are forced to accept small or unfair settlements.
- By delaying payment of claims, the insurance companies collect additional investment interest on funds for years while the injured party struggles to get by.
Actual Examples of Frivolous Defenses: Defending the Indefensible in Illinois Courts
- Following a patient’s minor neck surgery, a resident physician gave the patient double the maximum dosage of the drug necessary to awaken her, causing a heart attack and her death. The defense “fought” the case for five years, settling on the day before trial started.
- On a clear and sunny morning, a 29-year-old father of two children was driving a van on a Chicago-area expressway on his way to work. He was killed when his vehicle was hit in the rear and crushed by a large semi-tractor trailer. With the full knowledge of his employer, the truck driver had been driving well past the hours allowed by federal trucking regulations. According to his log book, the driver was supposed to be sleeping – as required by law – at the time of the accident. The employer denied wrongdoing for almost two years, hoping the victim’s widow would accept a small sum of money, before it settled the claim with a fair and reasonable offer.
- In separate cases, two individuals suffering painful facial sensations sought medical treatment in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In each case, the treating surgeon drilled into the wrong side of the patient’s head before recognizing the error. In both cases, the defense refused to admit the surgeon did anything wrong and instead forced the patients to undertake substantial litigation. The defense ultimately settled each case prior to trial.
- When a woman suffered excruciating pain and other complications following eye surgery, discovery in the case showed the patient’s doctor twice altered his records to cover up his medical negligence. Despite this evidence, the defense refused to admit it did anything wrong and forced the patient to undertake litigation for three years. The defense finally admitted negligence on the first day of trial – thereby trying to preclude the jury from hearing the damaging facts. The jury ruled in the patient’s favor.
- A man suffered a severe brain injury when a bus hit him in a crosswalk. The entire incident was recorded on a red light camera, which showed the man in the
crosswalk walking with the appropriate light. The defendant’s bus company refused to settle the case, denied it was negligent, and instead claimed the injured man was at fault. It took more than two years to procure a fair settlement offer – only after the injured man’s lawyers took more than 20 depositions. The plaintiff also had to hire an expert “to prove” what was clear on the red light camera video.
- A man was working on a scaffold when a steel brace fractured because of a manufacturing defect. Notably, the scaffold manufacturer had instituted a recall of
this scaffold four years earlier, but had missed this lot of brackets. When the lawsuit was filed, the defendant denied the scaffold was defective and instead said the injured man was at fault.
- A man was driving a company vehicle to a business meeting as directed by his employer. He was hit head-on by drunk driver and suffered multiple bone fractures – injuries that resulted in nearly half a million dollars in unpaid medical bills. However, the drunk driver had an inadequate insurance policy to cover the damages. Since the man was injured on the job, this was clearly a workers’ compensation case. But rather than pay his bills, the insurance company let his bills linger and go to collection agencies, and it required him to go to arbitration. After losing at arbitration, the insurance company appealed the decision to the appellate court in order to further delay payment. Only after it lost that appeal did the insurance company pay the man’s medical bills.
- A 36-year-old beverage delivery driver suffered an on-the-job injury to his knee that required surgery. After a short rehabilitation, he returned to his job, which required constant climbing, lifting and carrying of cases of beverages. His knee began to swell and he returned to his board-certified treating orthopedic surgeon, who said he needed additional surgery. But this recommendation was ignored by the employer and its insurance carrier for more than 18 months. During this time, the orthopedic surgeon had to drain his knee at least a dozen times and every time it was done, the doctor continued to recommend the additional surgery. Finally, the young man got fed up with the denial of surgery and hired an attorney. A short time after the attorney began representing the injured man, the employer and insurance carrier agreed to have the man evaluated by another orthopedic specialist, who said the delay caused the young man to now need a total knee replacement. Unfortunately, given this knee replacement procedure, the man was unable to return to unrestricted work and had to take a lesser paying position in the warehouse of this employer.
- A 36-year-old woman was a passenger in a vehicle struck head-on by a grossly intoxicated driver who crossed the centerline of a roadway at 85 mph. The defendant driver, drunk and high on the illegal drug ecstasy, had participated in an all-night party at his house which included underage drinking and exotic dancers while his wife was in the hospital recovering from injuries suffered in a separate motor vehicle crash. At the time of testing, the intoxicated driver was found to have twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. He later pled guilty to aggravated driving under the influence and is serving a six-year sentence in an Illinois prison. As a result of the crash, the injured woman suffered 17 bone fractures and underwent four major surgeries during which metal rods and screws were inserted into her body. After the victim filed a lawsuit, the drunk driver’s insurance company denied all liability and denied the drunk and high driver it insured had caused her injuries. The defense even denied his vehicle struck the other car. After nearly six years of litigation, 25 depositions and $70,000 of expenses incurred by the plaintiff, the defendant’s lawyers and his insurance company admitted negligence and settled the case as the jurors walked into the courtroom to hear the case.
- Defendants were sanctioned for filing a frivolous appeal of a verdict in favor of an injured person whom liability was obvious. The following quote is from the opinion of the Appellate Court of Illinois: “We find that this appeal, viewed as a whole, was frivolous, that it was taken for an improper purpose, and that it was filed specifically to harass and to cause unnecessary delay and needlessly increase the cost of litigation. We choose to impose sanctions for this conduct, finding that cases like this drain valuable resources intended to benefit those who accept the social contract of living under a law-based system of government.”
PDF Fact Sheet: Frivolous Defenses in Lawsuits: Defending the Indefensible