It is common knowledge that anyone can file a lawsuit in order to attempt to correct injustices which they have been forced to endure. But what is a lawsuit exactly, and how do you know when it's worthwhile to go ahead and file one?
What Is a Lawsuit?
A proper lawsuit should first identify how the claimant has been injured, and then demand something to compensate for that injury. For example, if your neighbor's dog was running around without a leash and has bitten your child in your own yard, then you may have a clear-cut case of negligence against your neighbor. The obvious damages sought in this case would be to have the neighbor pay for your child's hospital bills. But the damage need not necessarily be physical in order to have a successful lawsuit. If your spouse needed to miss time away from work as a result of the injury, that could also be included in the lawsuit. A good lawyer will be proactive in assessing damages and ways to rectify them.
What Can You Sue For?
In order to file a lawsuit, you must have a suitable cause of action. The court recognizes specific ways in which plaintiffs can be injured, and your case should be based on one of these recognized causes of action. The vast majority of lawsuits tend to fall under personal injury, breach of contract, discrimination and harassment, family law, or property disputes.
Do You Have a Good Case?
Based on your particular cause of action, there are specific elements that must be present in order to have a viable case. In general, however, you and your lawyer should consider the following:
Proof - What kind of documentation do you have to support your claim? Are there any witnesses that can support your version of events?
Precedent - What similar cases have been tried in your jurisdiction and what kind of compensation was awarded?
Timing - Do you still have time to file a lawsuit or are there any statutes of limitations in play?
Collection - If you do win the lawsuit, will the defendant be able to pay the damages?
Can I Collect if I Win?
There is no point in pursuing a lawsuit if the defendant is not able to pay. Unfortunately the court only has the authority to decide how much the defendant must pay; it will not collect the settlement for you.
If the defendant is working or owns valuable property, collection should not be too difficult. Your local law enforcement agency can enforce garnishment of wages, taking cash directly from a business, placing liens on property, or having the state license of a contractor or professional suspended until the debt is paid.
Is There an Alternative?
Not all lawsuits need to go to trial. You can try to speak directly with your opponent and work out a mutually satisfactory compromise, or you can hire a neutral third party mediator to evaluate your goals and try to work out a solution that works for everyone. If there is a contract in play, you may be able to submit the dispute to binding arbitration without the need of courts or lawyers.
Perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis
It is easy to say, “I’m going to file a lawsuit,” but lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming. Lawyer Juan Reyna put it like this: "Before filing a lawsuit, it is imperative to determine whether you have a legitimate legally defined grievance, how much you can potentially collect from the defendant, your chances of winning, and the chances that you will be able to collect on the settlement. And on the other side of the equation, you will need to weigh your legal fees, as well as the time and stress involved in going through the legal process." If you ultimately decide that there’s no other way to resolve the dispute and you stand to gain more than you stand to lose, then it’s time to hire a lawyer.