Jacob Bielanski Jan. 7, 2016, 8:22am


The copyright fight over a monkey’s selfies and damages sought from a family hug topped the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual list of the most frivolous lawsuits.

This list, compiled each year through chamber member polling, includes ten real lawsuits filed within the U.S. in the past year. At the top of the list was a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in San Francisco, seeking to award copyright proceeds of “selfie” images to a six-year-old crested macaque instead of the camera’s owner, who subsequently published those images and others in a book called “Wildlife Personalities.”

“Lists like this are great for me, because I get to talk about some of the frivolous lawsuits that are out there,” Thomas Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch told the Record. “But when you get beyond the humor and the wackiness … you realize that lawsuit abuse is a serious issue, it’s a serious problem.”

Though none of the top 10 were filed in Illinois, Akin said that the lawsuits closely resembled the “Throwed Rolls” case from Sikeston, Mo. In that case, a diner filed a claim for $25,000 worth of medical expenses in August of this year against the Lambert’s Cafe restaurant, after a piece of bread thrown by the staff hit a diner in the face and caused an eye injury. The practice of throwing the rolls is a common attraction of the restaurant, which bills itself as the “home of the throwed roll.”

Akin said the problem with such lawsuits is that they tie up courtroom time, which impacts more pressing cases. He recalled the tale of one woman who came to his organization to say that she had been waiting for five years to schedule a proper hearing in her divorce case.

“It makes her angry … all these big money cases, [courts] can find time to deal with those, but … there isn’t enough time for her to get the justice she needs,” Akin said. “Her life has been on hold--that’s the kind of real world impact these frivolous cases have.”

According to Akin, the best way to move forward is for the state to first “recognize we have a problem."

“Time and time again the leaders, particularly in the House and the Senate, continue to . pretend that we don’t have a problem.” Akin said. “Hopefully we can find a way to compromise between the legislature and the governor, to get some of these good ideas enacted into law.”

The state legislature is currently in a stalemate after Gov. Rauner vetoed the budget and sought what he called “structural reforms” Among those were changes in how liability is determined in injury cases and an end to “venue shopping” for lawsuits. 

The full list of frivolous lawsuits can found on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s website at uschamber.org.

(Editor's note: The Madison-St. Clair Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform).

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