To Sue or Not to Sue

If you are a business owner or even in your personal matters you have probably encountered a situation where you have tried to decide whether or not you should sue someone for something that they did to you. When you are considering this question there are actually two separate questions you really need to ask.

Does bringing a lawsuit make financial sense?

The first thing to consider when deciding to bring a suit is whether or not filing a lawsuit makes financial sense. When considering this you need to understand the potential costs of litigation. Despite what you see on television a civil lawsuit does not wrap it self up neatly in a one hour period of time. You also do not get to court immediately after filing.

The Rules of Court provide a process that every case must go through before a trial. This process will most certainly takes months and it is not uncommon for a civil case to go well beyond a year before a trial ever occurs. During the process you will be involved in drafting initial court papers, investigation of the case (which is called discovery), as well as potential motions and other legal hearings; all before you ever have a trial. Given the amount of work involved you can understand how this can get very expensive. It is not uncommon for civil cases to costs tens of thousands of dollars. So obviously the motion important decision is whether proceeding with your case makes financial sense.

You do have some options if your case does not warrant this level of financial commitment. Most if not all states have a small claims court where smaller disputes can be resolved. In Arizona all lawsuits under $2,500 are eligible for small claims court. The process for small claims court more resembles Judge Judy or the People Court than the regular process. You have get a hearing scheduled quickly where you can present evidence to the Judge. In Arizona, and most other States, there are no juries and attorneys are not allowed. (Insert your own attorney joke here about the use of attorneys!)

Many states, including Arizona have intermediate courts also. In Arizona these courts are called Justice Courts. In Arizona the Justice Court can handle matters under $10,000. The Justice Court can provide a shorter process as the Justice Court will quickly schedule a mediation or settlement conference in an attempt to resolve the matter. However, the rules for Justice Courts are the same as the Superior Court so the costs can be the same a regular court action.

Given these costs, what you as the potential plaintiff need to consider is the potential judgment you receive going to be enough to justify the cost of the litigation. If so then you next must consider the legal basis for the case.

Does my claim have merit?

The second question to ask is whether your potential claim has legal merit. This determination is very fact specific as each case is different. In order to properly make this decision it is often wise to consult with an attorney who has knowledge of the area of the law.

However, you should not expect the attorney to be able to provide an immediate, easy answer. As stated, this determination is often fact specific so the attorney will often have to review documents and discuss the facts with you and/or other witnesses.

After the facts are determined it is also likely the attorney will need to conduct research on existing statutes or other court decisions to determine whether or not the claim is valid. This is an important part of determining whether or not the claim has merit. Without this research the attorney can not provide quality legal advice.

If yes, then what?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes than it probably makes sense for you to file your lawsuit and pursue the case. However, there is one final caveat, you should also make sure that the person who are suing has assets to satisfy the debt. Even if you are successful in the case you will only get a piece of paper that says someone owes you money. You still must collect the money from that person.

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