Being told that you are the subject of a lawsuit is always an upsetting experience. Sometimes the filing is expected, but in other instances it feels overt, unnecessary and gratuitous, and that often leads defendants to ask their attorneys whether they are able to sue the plaintiffs for putting them in the position of having to defend themselves.  Though some countries adhere to what is known as the English rule, which requires that parties that sue unsuccessfully pay the winner’s legal fees, this is generally not the case in the United States, where lawmakers have generally been disinclined to punish people for suing. Residents of the state of Pennsylvania, however, have the distinction of being able to avail themselves of several laws designed to protect and offer redress to defendants who prevail. These laws include the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law the Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act, and the Dragonetti Act, which makes the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit liable for legal costs under certain circumstances.


The Dragonetti Act was originally established in 1980. Though it is made up of several provisions, its main ruling addresses “Wrongful Use of Civil Proceedings,” which it defines as when a plaintiff engages a civil proceeding against another wrongfully. The requirements that meet the statute’s guidelines include:


  • That the plaintiff acted without probably cause and for reasons other than resolving the case.
  • That the decision in the case favored the defendant.


Dragonetti follows Pennsylvania common law, which initially addressed the malicious use of process but required that the person who was accused of wrongdoing actually be arrested in order to seek redress. Dragonetti expands this beyond that requirement, and allows those who feel that they have been pulled into court inappropriately and without just cause to hold the plaintiff responsible for their legal fees, even though no actual arrest has taken place. This greatly expands the opportunity for those who feel that they have been wrongly accused to seek justice, and is also supposed to act as more of a deterrant against people maliciously or frivolously filing lawsuits.  A defendant who has prevailed in a civil suit is able to file a Dragonetti Act claim as soon as a decision in their favor is rendered,  though it can also be filed if the person that originally filed a claim against them voluntarily withdraws their lawsuit.


Those who are considering filing a Dragonetti Act claim need to understand that they are not likely to prevail if it can be shown that the original plaintiff honestly believed that their action was appropriate and valid, and that extends to the attorneys providing legal representation as well.  The Dragonetti Act also makes allowances for clients taking advice in good faith from their attorneys.  The damages available in a Dragonetti Act claim are generally for harm from arrest or imprisonment, harm to reputation, attorneys’ fees and emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be assessed. If you believe that a civil case filed against you was frivolous and based on ill will rather than an actual belief of wrongdoing, contact the attorneys at Bochetto & Lentz today. We will meet with you, listen to your specific situation, and provide you with legal counsel and representation.

Learn more about the Dragonetti Act here –