We live in a litigious society: people sue each other, companies sue companies, and companies and individuals sue each other too. The vast majority of these lawsuits are filed for good reason and proceed as they should, but occasionally somebody files a frivolous claim that’s really meant to do nothing more than make the other party’s life miserable, to intimidate the other party or to cost the other party a lot of legal fees. In Pennsylvania, this type of action is referred to as wrongful use of civil proceedings, and the legislature has made it illegal under a law known as the Dragonetti Act.
There are strict standards for determining whether a legal action falls under the definition of wrongful use of civil proceedings, and both of these standards must be met. These requirements say that when one party initiates a lawsuit without probable cause and for the primary purpose of making the other party go through the lawsuit, and at the end of the lawsuit the person that the claim was made against wins. The lawsuit that is at the heart of the claim needs to be resolved before an accusation of wrongful use can be made. This is also known as malicious use of process. No arrest or seizure is required for a claim to be considered subject to the penalties of the Dragonetti Act.
Though there are some occasions when a plaintiff accused of wrongful use of civil proceedings may blame their attorney, saying that they relied upon their advice as to whether it was reasonable to pursue the litigation, the most common challenge in proving a Dragonetti Act claim lies in proving that the plaintiff had an ulterior motive in filing the lawsuit. Still, if a person who has been accused and who upon being proven innocent decides to pursue a Dragonetti action against the plaintiff can successfully pursue damages that resulted from the lawsuit. According to the law, they can recover for the “harm normally resulting from any arrest or imprisonment, or any disposition or interference with the advantageous use” of his property, the harm to reputation by any defamatory matter alleged as the basis of the proceedings, attorney’s fees, other pecuniary loss, emotional distress and, in appropriate cases, punitive damages.”
If you believe that a legal claim that has been made against you is frivolous, contact us today to set up an appointment to discuss your legal options.