WASHINGTON D.C. – A fight over a monkey's selfie pictures and an aunt who sued a nephew for hugging her too hard top the list of 2015's most frivolous lawsuits.
This list, published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, includes 10 lawsuits filed within the U.S. in 2015, voted on by chamber members from a larger pool of a abuses. The ILR owns The West Virginia Record.
Topping the list was a lawsuit filed by PETA in San Francisco, claiming that copyright for photos of a six-year-old crested macaque belong to the monkey, not the camera owner, because the macaque operated the camera in a "selfie" style.
“The unfortunate thing is that, many times, we don’t learn the details of these cases, because the areas that are out of controls ... are oftentimes decided by insurance companies or settled,” said Roman Stauffer, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Though West Virginia cases did not make the top 10, Stauffer said the list of lawsuits reminded him of a case against a bike rental company in which one of the renters was legally blind and, after getting into a crash, filed a suit against the rental company.
Stauffer said the problem with such lawsuits is that they tie up courtroom time, which impacts more pressing cases. One such recently settled case, Tabata vs. Charleston Area Medical Center, was a class action lawsuit seeking damages for a brief breach of medical patient record security. In the lone dissenting opinion, Justice Menis E. Ketchum II argued that the plaintiff lawyer admitted than there was no evidence any of his clients medical information had been accessed.
“This case is a typical example of a frivolous class-action lawsuit,” Ketchum wrote.
According to Stauffer, West Virginia is slowly improving its “legal climate” through new leadership in the legislature that has emphasized legal reform. In March, the West Virginia reached a compromise in a law that would increase the requirement for filing a wrongful injury or death lawsuit against an employer.
WV CALA advocates tort reform in West Virginia. Stauffer said simply “shining a spotlight” helps to mitigate many case of wrongful suits.
“It’s amazing what happens when you start talking about lawsuits that may not have merit,” Stauffer said. “When a newspaper article comes out about a lawsuit about a biscuit that was too hot that they heated up on their own, a lot of times what happens, [the plaintiff] decides it’s not worth pursuing just to get an extra $5,000 or $10,000 in a lawsuit.
“Many times those filings will clog our court system and prevent those who have legitimate lawsuits from having their day in court."
The American Tort Reform Foundation’s website, Judicial Hellholes, only recently took West Virginia off the list. Stauffer said the state previously had occupied a place on the list for roughly the last decade.
The full list of frivolous lawsuits can found on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s website.