Litigation overdone, overblown, and overwrought: a mixed methods study of civil litigants
Hyperlitigious individuals, referred to by legal professionals as “vexatious” and mental health professionals as “querulous,” are individuals who make excessive and egregious use of the legal system for a primarily non-legal purpose. These individuals and their legal activity have been conceptualized and managed differently, though scholars generally agree this type of behavior is burdensome for all parties involved. Much of what is currently known about hyperlitigious individuals has come from conceptual articles and small studies in which legal and psychological professionals have offered hypotheses about them and the factors that motivate them to behave as they do. However, no previous study gathered data directly from a United States based sample. To address the gaps in the professional literature, this study employed a mixed-methods design that 1) quantitatively examined differences between hyperlitigious individuals and “typical” litigants regarding empirically-relevant psychological variables and 2) qualitatively explored litigants’ perceptions of their legal activity and its impact on themselves and others. Differences were observed between hyperlitigious and “typical” litigants in terms of trait agreeableness and need for cognition. Qualitative themes provided insight into cognitive, affective, and behavioral traits common in this population, motivations for persistent litigation, and numerous perceived costs of this behavior. Taken together, findings suggested this population may experience disagreements and motivated to act by their emotional reactions to conflict rather than the legal merits of the situation. Findings also revealed several negative social consequences (i.e. stigma) of the “vexatious litigant” label.