How to Sue
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
Once you have decided to go ahead and file a lawsuit, you will probably need some help figuring out how to get started. Filing a lawsuit is not always a clear and straightforward process, and even basic decisions such as where to sue might not be as simple as they seem. In FindLaw's section on How to Sue, you can find information about how to decide whether to file a lawsuit, whether you need the counsel of an attorney, how to write demand letters prior to a lawsuit, and what to expect in a lawsuit as it progresses from beginning to end.
Determining if You Should File a Lawsuit
When someone injures you or damages your property, your first instinct may be to think, "I'm going to sue that person!" But, lawsuits take up a lot of time, energy, and often money so it's important to consider it carefully before actually filing a lawsuit. There are a few helpful questions to consider when determining whether or not to file a lawsuit:
- Do you have a good case?
- Would you be willing to go to mediation or accept a settlement?
- Will you be able to collect if you win your lawsuit?
First, although there are never any guarantees that you will win a case, it's important to figure out if you have a good case. Most lawsuits can be broken down into a series of elements and in order to determine if you have a good case, each element must be satisfied. For example, if you want to file a breach of contract lawsuit against a contractor, you would have to make sure that you are able to satisfy each element of a breach of contract case.
Second, in the United States legal system, a majority of cases are settled instead of taken to trial. Many times the best solution to a problem is to discuss the issue with the other side, often with the help of a neutral mediator. Mediation is often a much more low cost and quicker alternative to a trial. In fact, many situations may require the parties attempt to mediate or arbitrate the issues before actually heading to court.
Assuming you have positive answers to the first two questions, you should also think about whether or not you'll be able collect a money judgment from the defendant. It's important to remember that if the defendant doesn't have the ability to pay a monetary judgment, there is really no point in going through the time, effort, and money of filing a lawsuit against him or her.
Statute of Limitations
It's important to be aware that there are time limits to file a lawsuit. The time limit, known as the statute of limitations in legal terminology, will depend on state laws as well as the cause of action for the lawsuit. For this reason, it's important to consult an attorney or look up the laws of your state when considering whether or not to file a lawsuit.
The clock for the statute of limitations of a particular cause of action can start running at several different times. Three of the most common times that the clock can start to run are: the date of harm, the date of discovery of the harm, or the date you should have discovered the harm. The date of harm is when the actual injury occurred, such as the date of the car accident that damaged your car. The date of discovery can occur when the injuries or damage could not have been ascertained until a later date. Finally, the date you should have discovered the harm is when a reasonable person would have discovered the harm. Generally speaking, you can look up the laws of your state to find out when the statute of limitations begin for the particular harm you have suffered.
Hiring a Litigation Attorney
If you believe that someone should be responsible for the personal injury, property damage, or monetary loss you have suffered and you are interested in filing a lawsuit, you should contact a local litigation attorney to discuss your options.
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