Avoiding Frivolous Lawsuits: When Is It Appropriate to Head to Court?
The legal community has been involved in a long-term effort to reduce frivolous lawsuits. This is partly to free up lawyer and court time for non-frivolous suits, but also to avoid harassing defendants who really did nothing to deserve being sued. If you've encountered a situation that you think is unfair and that may need to be decided in court, be sure your case meets certain criteria. You do not want your case marked as unfounded or frivolous.
What Damage Has Occurred?
"Damage" can be anything from property damage and injury to a damaged reputation and emotional distress. Because technically anything can cause damage, though, you can't simply claim that something could affect you adversely. You have to show actual damage or current problems as a result of what you're suing over.
For example, let's say you spilled hot coffee on yourself and stained your shirt, but you didn't suffer any physical injury. You can't sue for ruining your shirt—the place that sold you the coffee had nothing to do with that. But can you sue because you almost got burned given how hot the coffee was? Not really. You didn't sustain injury. (If you're wondering why you can't sue but the "McDonald's Coffee Lady" could sue, realize that much of the publicity surrounding the case was false and she really was horrifically injured.)
Yet let's say you suffered a bad burn and your insurance won't cover the full cost of reconstruction. Then you might have a lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
Let's say damage really did occur. Maybe you slipped and broke your leg, or you were in a car accident. How long ago did this occur? Many people do end up suing soon after the incident in question, but others don't because they think they aren't able to. Then, years down the road, they find out they could have sued. Yet now they can't because of the statute of limitations (the length of time after which the incident is no longer a legal issue).
You also need to show that you made at least a reasonable attempt to solve the problem before heading to court. Maybe someone is throwing their yard debris in your yard. Have you talked to the person to find out what's going on? Maybe it's their new landscaper who isn't as good as advertised, and your neighbor would fire the landscaper if you only let that neighbor know what was going on. What about arbitration or mediation? You need to investigate non-lawsuit options first to show that you tried to solve the issue.
You need to speak to a lawyer to determine if your proposed case has merit and a chance of winning. If you've tried to solve the problem yourself and have not been able to, contact a law firm like Johnson/Turner Legal to start going over what happened.