Frivolous Criminal Lawsuits Reflect Need for Tort Reform

Trial lawyers are robbing decent honest Texans of their money, trust, freedom and peace of mind. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is suffering from a shortage of guards and corrections officers, which has in turn led to dangerous working conditions. Texas, with an estimated 28,000 guards, is about 1,700 short of what the Legislature has approved. This shortage stems from the fact that Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees are among the lowest paid in the country. Instead of paying these prison guards more, the state is forced to spend money on defending frivolous lawsuits filed by prisoners.

In 1999, the Office of the Texas Attorney General received 655 lawsuits filed by inmates. According to the Office of the Texas Attorney General, the average cost of one of these cases can be $5,164. Instead of devoting its time to the hard working prison guards, Texas must spend money defending frivolous criminal lawsuits. The National Association of Attorneys General has created a list of the top ten prisoner frivolous lawsuits. Some of these lawsuits include:

An inmate filed a $5 million lawsuit against himself, claiming that he had violated his own civil rights by getting arrested, then asked the state to pay the $5 million since he is a “ward of the state.”

In Texas two inmates have filed six lawsuits each to complain about such issues as the prison mail service, the quality of the meal service, denial of dessert while on administrative segregation, and alleged medical injuries caused by being forced to carry his own property.

A Mississippi prisoner sued for not receiving his scheduled parole hearing, even though he had escaped and was out when the hearing was held.

In Connecticut a prisoner sued the state for $20,000 for pain and suffering because he cut his hand on barbed wire while trying to escape from jail.

A Florida prisoner sued in an effort to force prison officials to outfit him in Addidas, Reeboks, Ponys or Avai high tops rather than the sneakers issued by the prison.

In New York a prisoner sued for $15 million, claiming the Department of Motor Vehicles forced him into a life of crime by denying him a driver’s license.

A Florida prisoner sued to force prison officials to serve him three pancakes, instead of two, at breakfast.

A convicted drug dealer in New York sued for $2.5 million claiming his throat hurt after eating a prison-issued orange.

A death row prisoner sued corrections officials for taking away his Gameboy electronic game.

An inmate in Nebraska sued after officials ordered him to pick up a hamburger bun he dropped. The inmate claimed that this was a “work assignment” and he was prevented from working because of a medical condition.

All of these frivolous lawsuits cost time and resources. Instead of hearing cases of those who have real grievances, courts are forced to deal with frivolous lawsuits like the ones above. The Attorney General of New York has said, “[s]adly, it’s inmates who get the last laugh [because these lawsuits] are an effective way of harassing prison staff and the legal system that put them behind bars in the first place.”

Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees need legislators that have pledged to adopt rules that change the legal climate, rules that make the legal system accessible to people with real injuries, rather than trial lawyer special interests or frivolous prisoner lawsuits, and return money, trust, freedom and peace of mind to Texans.