Issues to Consider Before You File Your LawsuitBefore you file a civil case, you must figure out:
- Whom to sue;
- What you need to do before you file your lawsuit, like making a written demand;
- Where the person or business you want to sue is located;
- Where you should file your lawsuit;
- How long you have to file your lawsuit (this is called the “statute of limitations”); and
- Whether the costs of the lawsuit will likely be more than what you can recover. Remember, costs are not only money. Your time, the stress of a lawsuit on yourself and your family, how it might affect you if you lose, all these are costs. You need to consider them all carefully before you file your lawsuit.
These are hard issues to decide, even if at first glance they seem easy. For example, let’s say you get into a car accident. First, you have to figure out if the person who was driving the car is also the owner of the car. If not, you have to make sure you sue both the driver and the owner. Second, was the accident in part your fault? You also need to know what city and county the car accident happened in. And you only have a certain amount of time to sue, called the “statute of limitations.” If you do not file your lawsuit within the statute of limitations, your case can be dismissed, even if the other person was clearly at fault.
And what if the car that hit you is a government vehicle, like a police car? In that case, you might have to sue the city or county where the police department is located. When you sue a government entity, the law generally requires you to first file a Government Tort Claim with the government entity, usually within 6 months from the date of the accident or incident causing injury. Most government entities have forms for this purpose. This requirement is to give the government entity notice of what happened and allow them to review your case and resolve it outside of court. If you do not file the Government Tort Claim with the government entity within the required time period, you may not be able to recover any money from that entity. Once you file your government claim, the government entity will accept your claim, deny your claim, or not respond. If the government entity denies your claim or does not respond within 45 days, you can then sue in court, but there is usually a shorter statute of limitations to file your lawsuit from the date the claim is denied (or the 45 days go by), often only 6 months!
IMPORTANT: Read Preparing for
Court to find out how to figure out these issues and why they are so important. If you make mistakes with these first few steps before you even file your case, you may end up losing based on a procedural issue and never get your day in court.
How Much Should You Sue For?
If you are suing for $10,000 or less, consider whether small claims court can work for you. To find out more, read the information and instructions to file in small claims court. There are some exceptions to the $10,000 limit, so make sure you understand those too.
Even if you want to sue for more than $10,000, reducing the amount you sue for so you can file in small claims court may make more sense than filing a limited civil case for more money. Remember that when you file a limited civil case, there are many more costs involved than in small claims, like higher filing fees, the need for a lawyer, meeting all the court requirements, and time. Suing for more money in a limited civil case but having to pay much more to file and handle the lawsuit may result in you getting less than $10,000, or only slightly more, and not worth the extra time, effort, and money of a limited civil case.
- For example, if a plaintiff is owed $12,000, but the cost to file in superior court (including lawyers’ fees to help with the more difficult parts of the case) will be more than $2,000, it may make more sense to sue in small claims for $10,000 and avoid the additional costs.
- Or what if you have a personal injury case, like a slip and fall at a store, where you want to sue for $15,000 to $18,000? If you hire a lawyer to take the case on a contingency basis (meaning that the lawyer only gets paid if you win or settle in your favor), the lawyer’s fees will probably be at least 1/3 of what you win, or about $5,000 to $6,000. Adding that cost to other costs common in civil cases, you could easily spend over $7,000 just to have your limited case in civil court. This would leave you with $8,000 to $11,000, which is either less than you would have had if you had gone to small claims court or only a little more. And you would have had to go through depositions, filling out discovery requests like interrogatories, and other steps that take a lot of time and energy.
If you decide that you still want to ask for the higher amount of money and file a limited civil case, the rest of this section will give you general information about the court process.