Chuck Norris: it started with a fight…

by Walter Olson on June 3, 2011

According to the actor, in an op-ed (co-authored with Stephen DeMaura) in today’s WSJ:

Two women get into a fight in the ladies’ restroom at a restaurant. Afterward, they sue the restaurant owner, claiming someone should have been in there to break up the fight. It costs the small-business owner $2,000 to pay each plaintiff to drop the complaint, which was cheaper than fighting the lawsuit would have been.

This completely ridiculous story is true, and the restaurant owner was one of us, Mr. Norris. …

{ 18 comments }

1 Jane 06.03.11 at 8:54 am

That reminds me of a call I got years ago from a woman who wanted to sue Super K-Mart after she fell over in a dressing room while trying on a pair of jeans. I asked the caller what was it that K.Mart should have done, put an attendant in the dressing room? She said yes. I declined representation.

2 Jim Collins 06.03.11 at 11:08 am

My only question is who decides that a lawsuit is frivolous under this law? If the determination is made before the suit is filed then there would be no expense to worry about.

3 Ron Miller 06.03.11 at 11:27 am

Chuck Norris does not have the financial resources to stand up for principle. Instead, he cowers at the prospect of a completely frivolous lawsuit.

Before we wholesale accept this one sided story that does not provide any of the real facts, let’s look at the the Swiss cheese nature of this story. First, is there any reason why Chuck has not procured an liability insurance? Virtually every small business – much less one owned by Chuck – has coverage for this and the insurance company would be dealing with it and taking a very, very hard line under these facts.

Let’s assume against all logic Chuck forgot to pay the insurance bill. Okay. Chuck, you are literally a fighting machine with clearly deeply held political principles. He would roll over on this kind of obvious blackmail of a lawsuit because the cost was too much for you to bear? Really? How much does he contribute to his causes? He could get a lawyer to file a motion dismiss for a few thousand to promote one of his causes he is living in a real life action adventure. But he couldn’t afford it?

Okay, let’s make up some more facts. Chuck is incredibly poor. Crazy, I know. But let’s play along. I promise you there are a zillion organizations – including Cato I’m sure – who would be glad to pay your prolific fight against frivolous lawsuits. So why just roll over so quickly.

Should we ask these questions when a story makes no sense? Or should we jump on the “frivolous lawsuits are beating down even Chuck” theme and run with it?

4 Benji 06.03.11 at 11:55 am

In response to #3:
-No one said he cowered from the lawsuit – just that it makes economical sense to settle when doing so is cheaper than mounting a successful defense. Should we expect Chuck Norris to make a less sound business decision than other small business owners who chose to settle because it’s cheaper than an actual defense?
-It’s plausible that his liability insurance has a deductible of $2K (separate claims, since it’s unlikely two people brawling in a restaurant would then decide to cooperate in a lawsuit.) It’s also plausible that the price of an insurance claim (paid through higher premiums) would approach the cost of the settlement.
-Maybe he’d find someone to defend him pro bono, since they want the publicity of defending Chuck Norris. On the other hand, this is a fairly small claim against someone who can probably afford it. Time spent defending Chuck Norris is time not being spent defending someone who stands to lose much and has less to give in the first place.

5 VMS 06.03.11 at 12:08 pm

The argument is premised on the assumption that the $4000 is the only cost involved here. When plaintiff’s attorneys know that they can get $4000 for merely filing, then you will see a proliferation of these suits. On the other hand, if he spent $5,000 on a motion to dismiss, it would probably have been successful. It would have cost a little more, but it would be worth the cost.

6 Frank 06.03.11 at 2:14 pm

I also wonder about the facts not presented and more.

As noted ” since it’s unlikely two people brawling in a restaurant would then decide to cooperate in a lawsuit.”

So for interviewing a potential litigant, performing at least minimal investigation, drafting, filing and serving a complaint and associated papers, negotiating a settlement, drafting a settlement agreement and withdrawal of complaint, and receiving and distributing payment, plaintiff’s attorneys recover say on the outside 40% of each settlement, $800?

I’d think even in Texas lawyers could do better.

7 Mike 06.03.11 at 4:09 pm

@Ron,
To me, your tone says “Frivolous lawsuits are not a problem”. I disagree.
“He could get a lawyer to file a motion dismiss for a few thousand”. Its costs a lot more than that and such motions are routinely denied.

“the insurance company would be dealing with it and taking a very, very hard line.”. Maybe, but it costs them a lot to defend a case too, and they settle many cases just to avoid costs.

“there are a zillion organizations who would be glad to pay your fight against frivolous lawsuits.” ?

My bottom line: Frivolous cases are continuously filed against my company and others. You may not file them, but somebody will. It’s not hard for even frivolous cases to “get to a jury”, so defense costs are huge. Like most, we routinely settle zero-liability cases only to save costs.

You’re right, one frivolous case is not a national issue, but en masse they are an anchor on the economy.

8 Smart Dude 06.03.11 at 5:50 pm

I love it when the criminals blame the victim for not defending him/herself.

Loser Pays would go a long way toward fumigating the stench of these frivolous cases.

9 ps 06.04.11 at 2:00 am

i thought this was just another chuck norris joke. “chuck norris doesn’t engage in litigation, he is the law.”

10 Ron Miller 06.04.11 at 5:23 pm

Frivolous lawsuits ARE a problem. The question is how big of a problem they are. You can’t build a law practice filing frivolous lawsuits. You just can’t. I think that is where the big misconception is.

They have been since we founded this place. But the problem with trying to limit them is that you don’t want to discourage lawsuits that are not remotely frivolous and just do not succeed. Just because the defendant wins does not mean the lawsuit never should have been filed.

A related problem is the Brown v. Board of Education problem. A ridiculous lawsuit that never should have been filed based on the the law of the land at the time. If that case is filed just 15 years earlier, is is dismissed as absolutely frivolous. So trying to crack down on a problem that is not an anchor or the economy – give me one real stat on frivolous lawsuits being an anchor – you discourage a lot of cases like Brown v. Board of Education that do change the world for the better.

But there is one thing I need everyone to understand. Again, from the trenches, there is just no way to maintain a practice based on filing frivolous lawsuits. The point in the comment above is important. Pretending, against all logic, the Chuck Norris story is true, some lawyer make $800 on his best day. That is a recipe for going out of business within the year.

11 gitarcarver 06.04.11 at 10:37 pm

the Chuck Norris story is true, some lawyer make $800 on his best day.

Yeah, because we all know that a lawyer doing only 2 hours of work a day and making $800 for that 2 hours could never survive on the resulting $200,000 a year.

12 Ron Miller 06.06.11 at 11:51 am

Gitarcarver, have you ever run a business? Let me take a guess… no. I’m right? Really?

It takes more than 2 hours – geez to file a lawsuit, meet with the clients, and all of the things you have to do to get to that $800. But let’s pretend you are right. If a lawyer is bringing in 200K a year, after expenses, his K-1 shows negative income his resume is on Monster.com.

You have to listen to me: you can’t maintain a practice filing frivolous lawsuits. Henry David Thoreau – or one of those guys – said something about a thousand guys hacking at the branches of evil for the one guy hitting a root. I’ll every convince you of this, I know. But you are hitting a branch.

13 antiredistributionist 06.06.11 at 12:37 pm

I have seen many a complaint that was the fruit of less than two hours of “investigation,” “drafting”, etc. And I can’t remember the last time plaintiff’s counsel prepared a settlement agreement.

And whether or not a given lawyer can survive filing only frivolous suits has nothing to do with the issue.

14 Bill Alexander 06.06.11 at 12:44 pm

As a non-lawyer, I view the frivolous lawsuits like buying lottery tickets. They have their day job, and if they hit the jackpot on a lottery lawsuit, then they get a large bonus.

15 gitarcarver 06.06.11 at 1:05 pm

Gitarcarver, have you ever run a business? Let me take a guess… no. I’m right? Really?

You mean other than the one I am running now? Or other than the one I sold several years ago?

It takes more than 2 hours – geez to file a lawsuit, meet with the clients, and all of the things you have to do to get to that $800.

Right. Because it takes 30 minutes to meet with a client. Fifteen minutes to fill in a boilerplate form and another 15 minutes for a settlement agreement.

Plus, don’t forget, I still have 6 hours left in the day.

You have to listen to me: you can’t maintain a practice filing frivolous lawsuits.

And yet time and time again we see it here, don’t we Ron? Who are you going to believe, you or your lying eyes?

16 Ron Miller 06.06.11 at 1:16 pm

There are 311 million people in this country. Frivolous lawsuits are filed ALL OF THE TIME. What we are trying to figure out, with some level of nuance here and I apologize in advance for that, just how many that “all of the time” is and whether it is really being done on the scale which some suggest.

It just does, Gitarcarver. You can pretend it is not more involved than that if you like. I understand the temptation you have to talk about something about which you know nothing – we all do it from time to time. But it is just silly, uninformed, and does not add much to the discourse.

Actually, Antiredistributionist, this is exactly the issue because it informs us on the frequency of frivolous lawsuits.

17 gitarcarver 06.06.11 at 2:01 pm

Frivolous lawsuits are filed ALL OF THE TIME.
Agreed.

whether it is really being done on the scale which some suggest.

The question is why a frivolous lawsuit should be allowed to go forward or exist at all.

It just does, Gitarcarver.

All evidence to the contrary, Ron.

Actually, Antiredistributionist, this is exactly the issue because it informs us on the frequency of frivolous lawsuits.

I am always amazed that you believe in regulations that have no basis in any sort of statistical support, and then want to quantify the “frequency of frivolous lawsuits,” as if you are the final arbitrator of what is an acceptable level of a frivolous lawsuits.

Tell me Ron, have you ever been the victim of a frivolous lawsuit? One without merit whatsoever? Or would your contention be that since you have not witnessed them, they do not exist?

18 antiredistributionist 06.07.11 at 3:44 pm

Mr. Miller – A little thought should tell you that the “fact” (which I don’t concede) that a given attorney can’t survive on exclusively frivolous lawsuits tells us next to nothing about their prevalence.

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