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How to Sue an Online Business

By Molly Zilli, Esq. | Last updated on

These days, more and more people live their lives online -- chatting with friends, stalking an ex, trolling a public figure, and shopping for ... everything. So, it makes sense that more and more of our conflicts will also have some web-based aspect to them. And while you may know how to sue your neighbor, or the business down the street, what happens when you have a problem with someone you've only dealt with over the internet? There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to suing an online business.

Before Deciding to Sue

Before taking legal action against an online business, first ask if you should even file a lawsuit in the first place. This assessment includes whether you can prove what you need to prove, and if you think you would be able to collect money damages if you win your case. There's no sense in filing if you don't have the evidence or if you wouldn't be able to collect on a favorable judgment.

Where to File

Once you've decided to go forward, you have to figure out where to file your lawsuit. This is called finding the proper venue. Can you sue this person or business through your local courthouse? The answer depends on whether the court has jurisdiction over the parties involved. Generally, you can sue in any district where:

  • The defendant lives
  • The defendant does business
  • The accident or dispute took place
  • The contract was executed or performed
  • Substantial events leading to the lawsuit occurred

The "Active" vs. "Passive" Distinction

It can be difficult to answer the above venue question when the business you're suing operates solely online. In that case, the active vs. passive test can provide guidance. If you're suing an active website where, for example, there's an exchange of money for services or products, you can probably sue them in your state. The idea is that by having an exchange of information -- something that's interactive -- the business has reached out to you to do business in your state, and can therefore be sued there.

Ultimately, the best way to assess the strength of your case and to figure out where to file all the right paperwork is by consulting with an experienced attorney.

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