DEFINITION of 'Barratry'

Barratry is a legal term describing an illegal act whereby an attorney instigates a dispute or otherwise encourages the filing of a lawsuit, in order to profit from legal fees. Barratry typically involves the filing of a groundless claim in order to receive payment from clients. It is an illegal practice in all U.S. states and subject to criminal punishment and discipline by the state bar. An attorney found guilty of barratry would generally face disbarment.

BREAKING DOWN 'Barratry'

Barratry refers to an attorney's illegal instigation of lawsuits with no legitimate claim. For barratry to be a criminal act, the accused must perform repeated and persistent acts of litigation. It is against the law for an attorney to look for accident victims in hospitals or at home in an attempt to solicit business. Such "ambulance chasers" could be found guilty of barratry.

The penal code in the U.S. varies by state. Numerous jurisdictions have declared barratry (in the sense of a frivolous or harassing litigant) to be a crime as part of their tort reform efforts. For example, in California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, barratry is a misdemeanor. The State of Texas has taken things a step further, with barratry a misdemeanor on the first conviction, and a felony on subsequent convictions.

In maritime law, barratry is the commission of an act by the master or mariners of a vessel for an unlawful or fraudulent purpose that is contrary to the duty owed to the owners, by which act the owners sustain injury.

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