Thinking about corporate and governmental lawsuits, I was wondering if lawyers can bring a case over and over again until it finally pays out.
Specifically, I was thinking about the McDonald’s “fat children” lawsuits and the recent California recall lawsuits and referendum overturns. It seems that all it takes is to finally find one judge to think the right way, and a corporation can lose billions or a law/recall legally voted on by the people can be scuttled.
I’d like to know what the checks and balances are… no debate on the merits of the cases cited above as examples, please.
Yes and no. If I represent Defendant A, and Plaintiff B sues A and loses at trial, B cannot sue A again for the same injury. The law precludes B’s claim from being made again. But C’s similar claim is not barred. It’s considered unfair to C to have her claim barred. She might have better facts, or B might have had an incompetent attorney. (I’m omitting some nuances and the Latin term usually used for claim preclusion.)
On the other hand, if B appeals his trial court loss, and the appellate courts rule that the law does not recognize the type of claim B made at all (as a matter of law, and not just because B didn’t prove his case factually) , C’s similar claim will be summarily dismissed by the trial judge in the same jurisdiction, because trial courts have to follow legal precedents established by superior courts. If C’s case is clearly barred by the precedent, she and her attorney may even be sanctioned (in essense, fined) for bringing a frivolous claim.
In the two situations that you mention, the first type of case most likely would not be automatically barred. Each different case will have different facts. Maybe the dangers of most fast food will be ruled to be so obvious or minimal that the first 100 cases lose. That doesn’t mean that Plaintiff 101 won’t discover something new that makes his case a winner. (Hundreds of tobacco cases failed before someone uncovered evidence that tobacco companies deliberately hid/ignored evidence of the extent of the dangers of cigarettes. That’s the main reason that more recent tobacco cases had a different result.)
The recall situation you mention is somewhat different. Courts are not going to hear the same challenge over and over again. (There may be a few different cases on the issue - maybe one raises Federal civil rights and another raises a violation of a state election statute.)
Hope this helps.
I think Random put it pretty well.
I would add the following:
If some maverick judge imposes liability in a situation where the courts have generally held that no liability should exist, there is a very good chance that the ruling will be reversed on appeal.
I also assume that if a judge labels a case “different enough because today’s Tuesday”, and appeal will probably be successful based on the the Tuesday remark.