The Dragonetti Act is a relatively new law enacted in the state of Pennsylvania in 1980. It was created to replace a common law that allowed people to sue when the legal system had been used against them maliciously. To better understand how that common law worked and how the Dragonetti altered it, we need to look at the type of abuse it was designed to correct.
When somebody has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit and they know or believe that they are innocent of the accusation against them, one of the first questions that they ask their attorney is whether they can sue the person who is suing them. The question sounds comical, but actually makes sense when viewed in terms of the damage and costs involved in being sued. Attorneys’ fees can add up quickly, and no matter how thorough and well-organized your attorney is, it will require you to spend a fair amount of time away from your normal schedule. This says nothing of the impact on your reputation within the community and the stress caused by the entire event. Some countries have adopted what is known as the “English rule,” which means that when a case is lost by a plaintiff they have to pay the defendant’s legal fees, but that is not what happens in the United States. Except in specific types of cases involving consumers, contractors and subcontractors, or cases in which the court determines during the course of their proceedings that the lawsuit was brought in bad faith, defendants whose names have been cleared have no remedy for payment of their legal fees.
In Pennsylvania, the remedy for defendants was to file a lawsuit for malicious use of the legal process, but that could only be pursued if there was not only ill intent but also if property had been seized or the defendant had been arrested. That common law was replaced by the Dragonetti Act, which allows a person who has been sued maliciously to attempt to recover legal fees and damages even in cases where they have not had to serve time in jail or had property taken from them. It is important to understand that a Dragonetti Act case can not be pursued until after the initial court case has been resolved — even if you want to sue the other person for suing you, it can’t be done until the case has been set aside permanently or you’ve been proven innocent. It’s also important to note that if the original plaintiff or his attorneys can show that they brought the original case against you in good faith, believing you guilty of what they charged you with or were suing you for, that is a valid defense.
Read more about the Dragonetti Act here: