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Chris Nace
Chris Nace
Attorney • (202) 930-0292

“Pants” Suit Must Not Be A Rallying Cry to Close the Courthouse Door to Worthy Cases

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By now most everyone is familiar with the so-called "Pants" suit, where an administrative law judge filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit after a dry cleaner damaged a pair of his pants. The lawsuit has been the butt of many a (deserving) joke. It has also been a rallying cry for those in favor of "tort reform."

Let’s cover the easy ground first: this wasn’t a "tort" action. It was a breach of contract case alleging that the dry cleaners breached their "satisfaction guaranteed" advertisement. So "tort reform" wouldn’t have anything to do with the pants suit. Anyone who tells you this is why we need "tort" reform doesn’t know what a tort is.

Regardless, we can agree that this was a in fact a frivolous claim. But consider how our civil justice system treated it: The plaintiff filed his lawsuit seeking a large amount of damages. The parties went through the necessary steps, a trial was conducted, and the defendant prevailed. In fact, the plaintiff was ordered to pay court costs and other certain expenses incurred by the defendants. Now his appeal has been denied. In other words, the system worked.

Was it a frivolous suit? Sure. But what was outrageous about it was the amount of damages the plaintiff sought. If in fact the dry cleaner had destroyed a pair of the man’s pants, shouldn’t he have been entitled to some compensation? Many of us have had our dry cleaner lose or destroy an item of clothing. It’s frustrating. I wouldn’t advocate for a minute that anyone file a multi-million dollar lawsuit over such a thing.

But, this is the type of suit that our courts, on occasion, must tolerate to assure that worthy lawsuits have their day in court. The plaintiff didn’t collect any damages. The system heard his case and threw him out of court, without compensation (and even made him pay most of the costs).

Our democracy and our civil justice system demands a lot of give and take. You can’t defend the merits of this case. But our strong civil justice system helps keep families safe, so every so often we have to tolerate this type of abuse of the system. We can cringe, but it cannot become a rallying cry for closing the court house door.