May 20, 2024

Exposing the Legal Bully: How Abusive Litigation Undermines Justice

By Yvonne Chin, Sexual Violence Law Center

Litigation is a vital tool for resolving disputes and delivering justice. In our adversarial legal system, both parties present evidence, expecting truth to prevail and justice to be served to the aggrieved. However, abusers often resort to abusive litigation against their victims, thereby undermining the legal process and derailing justice.

Abusive litigation entails the misuse of legal proceedings to harass, intimidate, or financially exhaust the other party. It manifests in various forms, including frivolous lawsuits, strategic delays, and excessive discovery requests. While litigation inherently involves conflict, abusive litigation takes it to an extreme, employing tactics that serve no legitimate legal purpose other than to inflict harm.

Abusive litigation is commonly seen in interpersonal cases, especially those involving domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, or harassment. Individuals with limited resources are often the primary targets of abusive litigation, especially when faced with well-funded opponents. In cases involving intimate partner violence, victims are further disadvantaged due to factors such as emotional vulnerability, financial dependence, and social isolation. This power imbalance worsens the effects of abusive tactics, leaving victims with the difficult decision of either yielding to unjust demands or enduring a lengthy and financially crippling legal ordeal.

Frivolous lawsuits represent a particularly egregious form of abusive litigation. These meritless claims are filed with the sole intent of burdening the victim with legal expenses and exerting pressure to settle out of court or give up entirely. They are a form of pernicious, legal bullying. By clogging the judicial system with baseless cases and counter-claims, perpetrators undermine judicial efficiency and bar victims from the peace, safety, and protection they deserve.

Strategic delays are another common tactic employed by abusive litigants to wear down their opponents. By exploiting and misusing procedural rules, they prolong the litigation process, driving up costs and draining victims’ resources. Victims are left in a state of perpetual uncertainty, unable to achieve closure or move forward with their lives. This is a form of trauma, which is exhausting and takes a serious psychological toll.

Excessive discovery requests serve as yet another tool in the arsenal of abusive litigation. While discovery is a vital component of the legal process, it can be weaponized to inundate victims with voluminous, burdensome, and frivolous demands for information. This not only prolongs the proceedings, it is also invasive, and imposes significant costs, causing further harm and trauma on the victim.

We need to know how to identify and combat abusive litigation so that we can protect both victims and the integrity of our legal system. Upholding principles of fairness and justice entails actively opposing abusive litigation when we see it. 

Join us for an informative presentation at the 2024 NCVLI Crime Victim Law Conference in Portland, OR, where we will discuss strategies, tools, and tips for recognizing and challenging abusive litigation tactics in the session titled, “Survivors Under Attack: Identifying and Responding to Abusive Litigation Tactics.”


The Sexual Violence Law Center (SVLC) is a statewide, nonprofit law firm based in Washington. SVLC protects the privacy, safety, and civil rights of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence through holistic legal representation; consultations and brief services for survivors; systems reform including legislative advocacy; and technical assistance, trainings, and community education for attorneys, advocates, judicial officers, and survivors. SVLC engages in holistic, trauma-informed, survivor-centered advocacy, rooted in race and gender equity practices. Feel free to email us at, or call us at 844-991-7852.