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What To Know Before Filing A Lawsuit

What To Know Before Filing A Lawsuit

Amrusha Chati

Amrusha Chati

22 September 20235 min read

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What To Know Before Filing A Lawsuit

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    In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled some coffee on herself. I can't speak for everyone, but I've done it at least a million times. Why, then, did it become big news and go down in legal history? 

    That could be because she sued McDonald's for serving her coffee that gave her third-degree burns after she accidentally spilled it on her lap. And she won. 

    She won $2.86 million, to be precise.

    At the time, McDonald's had sales of over $13 billion in the US alone. And its hefty PR machinery ensured that despite Liebeck's historic win, the "McDonald's hot coffee case" became synonymous with frivolous lawsuits.

    But it's a fascinating study not for how the legal system can be hoodwinked but rather the opposite. The case is an example of how the legal system defended the right to safety for a regular citizen against the might of a multi-million dollar business empire.

    Though I hope you never have to, there may be times when you, too, believe that someone has infringed upon your legal rights. In such cases, you can sue or file a civil lawsuit against your opponents.

    But the sea of legalese and mountains of paperwork can be daunting for someone who isn't a lawyer. Luckily, you have us! We've put together a handy guide for what to know before filing a lawsuit for those who wish to make a legal claim for their rights.

    Here's some food (at the appropriate temperature) for thought before you take the legal leap.

    (1) Have you explored all other options?

    Litigation should be your final option.

    Have you tried to explore a business-level solution by making a phone call, setting up a meeting, or working out a rational solution that will work for both parties?

    This often can save you years of headaches and stress. Ensure you've exhausted all options to negotiate a settlement before filing a lawsuit. Suggest mediation with the other party to resolve a dispute before you take more drastic steps.

    (2) Do you have a valid case?

    Before you file a lawsuit, do your due diligence. Do some research into the state or federal laws that are applicable to the type of harm you have suffered. Is it a personal injury claim, a car accident due to negligence, or a complex medical malpractice lawsuit?

    At this stage, it might be helpful to seek a consultation with an attorney. They have a thorough knowledge of the law they can use to help you evaluate your case objectively. If you have a strong case, that'll point you in the right direction. If not, it will save you the time and cost of litigation.

    (3) Do you have your facts organized?

    A legal dispute finally comes down to what can be proved with hard facts and tangible proof.

    You must provide objective evidence for everything you allege in a lawsuit. Do you have enough evidence to support each of the requirements of the applicable law? Here are some pointers on how you can preserve such valuable evidence:

    • If you have physical evidence like paper bills, receipts, letters, medical records, or contracts, organize and store them safely.
    • Make a few copies and get them attested with local authorities if you lose the original.
    • Preserve your emails, physical files, and all associated meta-data to show when particular emails and documents were created, sent, and received. You can even hire a computer forensics company to help you with this. Depending on how much email you need to preserve, this can cost between $500 and $2,000, but it's usually a worthwhile investment.

    (4) What's the proper court for your case?

    When you file a lawsuit, you must ensure that you do it in a civil court with jurisdiction or the rightful authority to decide your case. This depends on how much of a connection the court has to your case regarding geography or expertise.

    Usually, it's better to sue in a court in the district or state where you or the defendant live. 

    Alternatively, you can also sue according to where the incident led to the lawsuit occurring. In most cases, a state court will have sufficient jurisdiction. Federal courts resolve disputes only under particular circumstances related to federal laws. You may also approach a federal court under the provision of diversity jurisdiction. 

    This is applicable if the amount in question is over $75,000 and you and the defendant live in different states.

    Ensure you file in the correct court, or else the court won't have the authority to decide your case. This could cost you valuable time and money as filing fees differ for each.

    (5) What are you suing for?

    While this seems like a basic question, this is a difficult decision. That's because assessing the damage you suffered and how much of the responsibility lies with who you're suing can sometimes be complicated.

    But you need to be clear about what your claims are, how much financial compensation you want, and/or what other terms you'd be willing to consider. 

    For instance, if you only wish to claim a few thousand dollars for a relatively minor offense, you can file your claim in a small claims court. The eligibility limits for a small claims court vary in each state, so be sure to check that.

    (6) Exactly whom are you suing?

    Again, this may seem obvious, but remember that this is especially complicated if you're suing a large group or organization. There are often clauses in employee contracts, etc., that can shield a business owner or corporate entity from any liability. Or an individual may prove they didn't have liability as they were only doing their job.

    This will directly impact your claim in its scope. So make sure you know exactly who you want to sue. Moreover, check their eligibility to pay. Suing someone who doesn't have enough assets to pay your desired claim will end up costing you legal fees for nothing in return.

    (7) Do you need a lawyer?

    While a DIY approach might work for some, we recommend getting legal expertise if your case is more complicated. Some attorneys specialize in certain branches of law, and they usually understand nuances that laypersons don't.

    For instance, let's say you're a trademark owner trying to sue for trademark infringement,

    A trademark attorney could help you out. 

    Similarly, you can seek legal counsel from attorneys who specialize in cases similar to yours. While it may add to your legal expenses, it's a good investment. It can help you achieve much more from your lawsuit in the long run.


    What are some of the most common types of civil cases?

    The three most common categories of civil lawsuits are:


    • tort claims
    • breach of contract
    • landlord/tenant issues

    What are some essential costs involved in a lawsuit?

    Court costs related to a lawsuit usually include: 


    • the initial filing fee
    • fees for serving the summons, complaint, and subpoenas
    • fees for the transcription by a court reporter of depositions or in-court testimony.

    What do you call someone who files a lot of lawsuits?

    The common term used for someone who files many lawsuits is litigious. It is the adjective form of litigation, which is the act of suing someone in court. A person is called litigious if they tend to sue people, maybe even excessively or with little reason.

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    Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.