By TOM DONOHUE
WASHINGTON -- Leave it to the plaintiffs' trial lawyers to add insult to injury.
While American businesses and families spent 2009 coping with the effects of a severe recession, the plaintiffs' bar was hard at work bringing a whole new round of outrageous lawsuits on behalf of clients hoping to get rich quick by winning the litigation lottery.
To chronicle some of the most egregious lawsuits, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) introduced its First Annual Most Ridiculous Lawsuit of the Year Poll.
Nominees were drawn from the monthly Most Ridiculous Lawsuit poll winners featured on FacesofLawsuitAbuse.org, a public awareness Web site that aims to show how abusive lawsuits affect small businesses and average families in very real ways. Throughout the year, more than 50,000 people voted for their favorite ridiculous lawsuit.
Here are the top five most ridiculous lawsuits of 2009:
5. Neighbor sues woman for smoking in her own home.
4. Double murderer sues to claim his victims' classic Chevy pickup.
3. Holocaust denier sues Auschwitz survivor, alleging memoir contains "fantastical tales."
2. Tourist sues hotel, claiming swimming pool got daughter pregnant.
1. Illegal immigrants sue rancher who stopped them on his property at gunpoint and turned them over to the Border Patrol.
Frivolous lawsuits like these, sadly, are all too common. With unemployment stubbornly remaining above 10 percent, putting Americans back to work must be our top national priority. But the litigation climate threatens to dampen job creation and economic growth just when we need it most.
Instead of investing in new equipment, opening new stores, or hiring additional employees, many small business owners are being forced to spend their hard-earned dollars beating back ridiculous lawsuits. This weakens our culture of entrepreneurship, stymies economic development and job creation, and clogs our already overburdened judicial system.
To make matters worse, plaintiffs' lawyers are working tirelessly to convince Congress to give them even more ways to sue.
The American people deserve better. They deserve a judicial system that delivers swift justice to those who have caused injury and relief for victims. But when judges are forced to hear cases like those mentioned here, the system breaks down for everyone.
It's time for Congress and the state legislatures to just say "no" to more lawsuits, so that the job creators can get Americans back to work instead of worrying about the next outrageous lawsuit. Let's make 2010 the year we create more jobs, not more lawsuits.
Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform owns The West Virginia Record.