Grabbing a Tiger by the Tail: How the Taylor Swift Litigation Shows that Some Lawsuits Aren’t Worth Filing

Sometimes, it makes sense not to file a lawsuit, even if you have good claims, where there’s no easy victory and the lawsuit will ultimately cost more in time, legal fees, and distraction than you’ll ever recover.

We’re seeing a possible example of this with the lawsuit filed by Radio DJ David Mueller against Taylor Swift.  Mueller alleges that a false accusation by Taylor Swift to his bosses led to him getting fired. In the lawsuit, Taylor Swift quickly filed a counterclaim, alleging assault and battery while they posed for this picture.

If you’ll pardon the pun, this plaintiff has grabbed a tiger by the tail.

By filing this lawsuit, he stepped into near-certain litigation involving a motivated, deep-pocketed opponent who will put up a relentless fight in a lawsuit with no clear facts. In this case, there’s no easy victory and, worse, there’s no easy middle ground.  It’s his word versus her word, a fight over principle, and litigation like that is always expensive and impossible to settle without a jury (or judge) deciding who is right.

I recently had a very good client come to my office, with a new lawsuit for me to pursue. The facts were messy, with emotional claims on each side, with no clear facts showing either side was clearly right, and with no way to recover the attorneys fees if we won.

In the end, my best advice was to avoid the stress, expense, and distraction of waging this fight over a fairly small amount of money, even though I was confident we’d win in the end. In discussing emotional disputes, one my most respected law partners, Ed Yarbrough, once said, “If the client says it’s all about the principle, then I have no interest.”

Sometimes, the best way to win a fight is to know which ones aren’t worth fighting.

Why I Volunteer at Legal Aid

Last year, I spent all day on a Sunday in the outer reaches of Nashville, building a house for Habitat for Humanity. I don’t know much about building a house, roofing a roof, or using a nail gun. In fact, what I know about nail guns, I learned from a Bruce Willis action movie. Needless to say, I was not having a good time that day.

Even though it felt good to be volunteering and doing good in a general sense, it felt weird to be wasting time and destroying construction supplies on a table saw.

So, on that hot Sunday, I decided to not volunteer at any more construction jobs, and, instead, devote my time in a way that emphasizes my most valuable assets–my legal knowledge.

Since then, I’ve routinely volunteered at the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Upper Cumberlands.  I’m lucky to be really busy at work, and so I don’t volunteer as much as I could.

But, Legal Aid makes it easy: They offer free legal aid clinics at various times, days, and locations every month, and the commitment for volunteer lawyers is generally only a few hours at a time.

I know, I know–I’m basically telling you about the easiest, lease time-intensive way to help, but that’s a also good thing. A little bit of help goes so far. They need help staffing these clinics, and, in two hours, a lawyer can help 3-5 people who had been hopelessly lost in the legal system.

So, if you’re reading this blog and I’ve saved you any time researching a legal question, I have one request: Take that time saved and denote your time to your local legal aid clinic.

Elements of Negligent Misrepresentation in Tennessee

Disclaimer: As much as I love educating blog readers about the law, sometimes, I use this site as a notepad for myself on legal issues.

Frankly, I can’t tell you how many times I think to myself–in court–“I’ve blogged about that,” and then use the “Search” box on this blog to look a citation/issue up.

So, real quick, here’s a good guide to the elements of “negligent misrepresentation” in Tennessee, as stated in a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case,  Jerry Faerber, et. al. v. Troutman & Troutman, P.C., et. al., No. E2016-01378-COA-R3-CV, May 23, 2017.

In order to state a claim for negligent misrepresentation, the plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that:

  • the defendant supplied information to the plaintiff;
  • the information was false;
  • the defendant did not exercise reasonable care in obtaining or communicating the information; and
  • the plaintiff justifiably relied on the information.

See Morrison v. Allen, 338 S.W.3d 417, 437 (Tenn. 2011).

Negligent misrepresentation occurs when:

  • a defendant, acting in the course of his or her business, profession, or employment, or in a transaction in which she has a pecuniary interest, supplies faulty information meant to guide another in his or her business transaction;
  • the defendant fails to exercise reasonable care in obtaining or  communicating information; and
  • the plaintiff justifiably relies upon the information provided by the defendant.

See Robinson v. Omer, 952 S.W.2d 423 (Tenn. 1997)

“Justifiable reliance in [the] context [of negligent misrepresentation] is not blind faith.” McNeil v. Nofal, 185 S.W.3d 402, 408 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). The defendant is liable “only to those, whether in contractual privity or not, for whose benefit and guidance the information is supplied.” The information may be either direct or indirect. In that regard, the foreseeability of use is critical to liability. John Martin Co., Inc. v. Morse/Diesel, Inc., 819 S.W.2d 428, 431 (Tenn. 1991)

“[T]he usual measure of damages in a negligent misrepresentation action is the benefit of the bargain rule, that is, the difference between the actual value of the property received at the time of the making of the contract as compared to the value if the representations had been true.” Cary v. Evans, 1986 WL 6642, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 12, 2986) (citations omitted).

Ok, so this isn’t the most interesting blog post I’ve ever done, but, trust me, I’m going to search for “negligent misrepresentation” at least ten times.