The Dragonetti Act is specific to the state of Pennsylvania. It has been in place for more than forty years and was specifically drafted to address the wrongful use of civil proceedings. It provides those who have had civil lawsuits filed against, and who have won their cases, to file suit against the party that initiated the original lawsuit and to be awarded damages for the “harm normally resulting from any arrest or imprisonment or any disposition or interference with the advantageous use” of his property. These damages can include harm to reputation by whatever was alleged as the basis of the original lawsuit, attorney’s fees, emotional distress, and even punitive damages where applicable.
It is easy to understand the wrongful use of civil proceedings, as even people who are outside of the legal field have certainly heard about cases that seem frivolous or mean-spirited. The Dragonetti Act has a particularly narrow purpose and two requirements that must be met for a case to be filed. They are:
- The person who was responsible for having filed the original legal action must have acted in a grossly negligent way, having pursued the case without probable cause and primarily for a purpose other than the stated basis of the lawsuit; and
- The original claim has to have been terminated and a ruling must have been granted in favor of the original defendant.
While the second requirement is easy to understand and to establish, proving that the first requirement is met can be more of a challenge. It is necessary to establish that the original plaintiff – who would now be the defendant in a Dragonetti Act claim – acted with malicious intent or that the claim was pursued in a “grossly negligent manner or without probable cause.”
When faced with a Dragonetti Act claim, an attorney’s defense can be that they were relying upon the representations made to them by their client when moving forward with a case, and likewise, their client’s defense can be that they relied upon the advice of counsel. Proving an ulterior motive for the initial claim can be very difficult, and as a result, Dragonetti Act claims are often dismissed before ever being heard.
If you are facing a Dragonetti Act claim or believe that it is appropriate for you to pursue one after having successfully defended against a frivolous legal claim, our attorneys can provide you with the guidance you need. Contact us today to set up a time for us to discuss your situation.