When the tables are turned in a lawsuit – The Dragonetti Act
The Dragonetti Act was passed in 1980 by the Pennsylvania legislature. It is a law that is specifically designed to allow those who have been named as defendants in civil actions to sue those that have pursued them if they believe that the actions were a wrongful use of civil proceedings. The two requirements that are necessary to embark upon a Dragonetti Act case are that:
- The person who was responsible for the legal action acted in a grossly negligent way, pursuing the case without probable cause and primarily for a purpose other than the stated basis of the lawsuit; and
- The original claims are terminated and the ruling was in favor of the person who was the original defendant.
What this all means is that if somebody has sued you maliciously and without reasonable cause, you can sue them as long as the original claims against you are dismissed and you prevailed.
It is important to remember before seeking to file a Dragonetti Act case – or when defending against one – that the mere fact of successfully defending oneself does not automatically mean that the courts are going to find that gross negligence took place in having filed suit against you in the first place.
In a 2005 case brought before the U.S. District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania, a physician who had been sued for medical malpractice by a couple, and who prevailed at trial with a judgment entered in his favor, turned around and filed a Dragonetti action for “wrongful use of civil proceedings” against the couple’s attorney, the attorney’s law firm, and the couple themselves for having filed the suit against him in the first place.
The physician’s case was based in large part on the premise that the attorney in the case against him had breached a standard of care that is expected of attorneys. It was his position that the attorneys were negligent in having pursued the case, and that the intention of the case was to harass the physician. He maintained that the couples’ lawyer should not have believed his clients and that it was unreasonable for him to have relied on their statements. However, the doctor did not present any kind of evidence or expert testimony or report to support what the appropriate standard of care of an attorney should be.
The attorney defendants provided an expert report indicating that they had met the basic standard of care in their belief of their clients. The judge in the case determined that by virtue of not having provided expert evidence, the physician had not met his obligation to prove his case. The judge further pointed out that an attorney can’t be found guilty in a Dragonetti action even if he knew that the chances of winning the case were “comparatively slight” if the clients wanted to proceed even after having been advised of their minimal chances of prevailing.
Summary judgment was entered in favor of the defendant attorneys and their clients.
Read more about the Dragonetti Act here: