Blog

Proposed "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act" Short Circuits Judges

Photo of Brian Humphrey

This week, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas introduced into Congress a bill entitled the "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act" ("LARA"). If passed, this bill will amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to remove federal judges' discretion in awarding sanctions for improper pleadings and remove the "safe harbor" provision of the rule which allows parties or lawyers to voluntarily withdraw or amend pleadings when the other party has filed a motion for sanctions. While the purpose of this bill is purportedly to combat "lawsuit abuse," its only effects will be to clog our courts with unnecessary hearings and to increase litigation costs for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Rule 11 allows a federal court to issue sanctions against a party or lawyer whom it finds filed a lawsuit or other pleading for an improper purpose or without conducting a reasonable inquiry into whether the legal contentions are warranted or the factual allegations have evidentiary support. If so, Rule 11 currently gives the court discretion as to whether to award sanctions. Rule 11 allows the person filing the pleading 21 days to withdraw the pleading rather than face sanctions-this is what is called "safe harbor" provision, and allows the filer an "out" if an impropriety is called to his attention.

LARA would change this by making sanctions mandatory if the court finds pleadings improper and would take away the "safe harbor" provision. As a result, the federal trial court judge, who is in the best position to determine whether sanctions are proper, will no longer have the discretion not to award sanctions. Without the "safe harbor" provision, any pleading puts the filer at risk for sanctions even if the pleading is improper due to an honest mistake.

LARA is touted as another attempt at "tort reform" and is designed to protect defendants from perceived "lawsuit abuse" by plaintiffs. However, the authors of this act may not be doing defendants any favors-unlike the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the federal rules hold defendants to the same "reasonable inquiry" standard when denying a plaintiff's allegations. A defendant who denies a plaintiff's allegations without investigating them or who raises a frivolous defense also faces a much greater risk of sanctions under the "Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act."

Rule 11 sanctions are rarely sought and even more rarely awarded. This is as it should be-the litigation process is contentious enough without parties and lawyers tossing motions for sanctions at one another. The authors of LARA are apparently frustrated that there isn't enough sanction litigation in our federal courts. This would seem to run counter to "tort reformers'" usual claim that they seek to unclog the courtroom and reduce litigation costs.

What LARA's proponents fail to tell you is that this has already been tried. Similar reforms to Rule 11 were imposed in 1983. The result was a dramatic increase in motions for sanctions, leading to a rash of costly satellite litigation which had nothing to do with the merits of the cases. This is why the 1983 amendments were scrapped in 1993.

Unfortunately, it may be too much to ask for LARA's authors to learn from history. Hopefully, cooler heads in Congress will prevail.

If you or someone you know is involved in potential business or other civil litigation dispute, contact the attorneys at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto, & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Awards & Recognition

  • 2016-2017 Equal Access to Justice Champion

    The Equal Access to Justice Champions Program was started by the Houston Bar Association in 2006, to help ensure placement of Houston Volunteer Lawyers cases with pro bono volunteers. Originally, firms were tiered according to size, and firms within each tier committed to accept a certain number of pro bono cases from HVL each year for five years.

  • The National Trial Lawyers | Top 100 Trial Lawyers

    The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an invitation-only organization composed of the premier trial lawyers from each state or region who meet stringent qualifications as civil plaintiff and/or criminal defense trial lawyers. Selection is based on a thorough multi-phase objective and uniformly applied process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research.

  • Million Dollar Advocates Forum

    Established in 1993, the Million Dollar Advocates Forum (which includes the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum) is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. Membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. There are over 4000 members throughout the country. Fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.

  • Recognized by Best Lawyers America | Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz | 2017

    Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Their methodology is designed to capture, as accurately as possible, the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area.

  • Lead Counsel Rated

    In order to earn the Lead Counsel Rating, an attorney must not only demonstrate significant legal experience, but must also receive multiple peer recommendations advocating his or her ability. This is a key component in the screening process.

  • Texas Super Lawyers | Texas Monthly

    Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in Texas via a patented multiphase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The Texas lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in Texas Super Lawyers Top Lists.

Get Your Free Case Review 713.587.9668

Let Us Help You Today! Request a Free Consultation

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information
disclaimer.

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

close

Privacy Policy

Firm News & Updates

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented nearly 100 victims who suffered personal injuries and damages to property from a large fire and explosion resulting in a settlement of more than $50 million. The firm served as lead lawyers on the steering committee in this litigation.

  • $80 Million Personal Injury Large Plant Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 270 plaintiffs', taking a lead role in the plaintiffs' steering committee, who suffered injuries in a large plant explosion resulting in a settlement of nearly $80 million.

  • $50+ Million Personal Injury Plant Fire and Explosion

    The firm successfully represented 45 personal injury victims in a plant fire and explosion, serving on the plaintiffs' steering committee, concluding with a settlement of more than $50 million.

  • $22+ Million Personal Injury Work Site Accident

    The firm prevailed in a personal injury trial for a worksite injury client with the jury returning a verdict and resulting in a judgment of over $22 million for the firm's client.

  • $12 Million Auto Accident 18-Wheeler Collision

    The firm successfully achieved a $12 million settlement for the family of a man who died in an 18 wheeler collision.

  • $30 Million Personal Injury Burn Victims

    The firm prevailed on behalf of three burn victims with settlements totaling nearly $30 million.

Our Record Of Success.

When you are hurt and you choose a law firm to represent you in court or at the negotiation table, you need to carefully consider the firm's record.

More Success Stories