How often do you hear the phrases, “I’ll sue you!” or “I’ll call my lawyer!” being yelled on TV, at a car dealership, or at a social gathering? Probably more than we would like. Most times, these statements are uttered following an emotionally charged argument or disagreement. Emotions do not make for good lawsuits, but there are ways to check whether a person has a viable lawsuit or not.

How Do I Know If I Have a Viable Lawsuit?

First, you have to have been injured. This usually comes in the form of physical injury or monetary damage (in nuisance cases, your inability to enjoy your property is also deemed an “injury”). Second, the injury must have been caused by the party you intend to sue. If you get hit by a car, for example, you cannot sue the driver’s brother who was living in another state at the time of the incident just because he has more money. Third, you must be entitled to recover damages or be compensated under the law.

The first two items should be easier to meet – you need to be injured by the other party to recover from that person and you need to sue the correct person. However, whether you can seek relief under the law is where the danger lurks. When you sue someone for damages in a civil lawsuit, you are asserting a cause or causes of action against that person. For example, a cause of action could be one for a breach of contract, negligence, or fraud. It is also sometimes called a claim. Each cause of action is comprised of “elements.” For instance, generally, the elements of a cause of action for breach of contract is a valid contract between the parties, a breach of a term or terms of that contract, and damage resulting from that breach. This sounds easy, but what constitutes a valid contract? If a party to the contract was a minor at the time the contract was entered into, the contract could be deemed void. If there is no bargained for exchange, meaning neither party is giving up or gaining anything from the contract, there is no contract.

Can the Other Party Impend the Lawsuit?

In addition, the other party can assert defenses. In the example of a claim for breach of contract, the statute of limitations varies depending on the jurisdiction. For example, in California, the statute of limitations on a breach of written contract claim is four years. That means you must file a lawsuit within four years of the breach. Otherwise, your claim may be barred.

In some cases, you may need to go through a governmental agency first before bringing your claim. For example, before you can file a civil rights discrimination lawsuit against an employer, you may be required to file a claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After the EEOC has completed an investigation, it provides you with a “right to sue” letter permitting you to file the action in court. But if you do not have permission to sue, your lawsuit could be dismissed outright. If you had permission to sue, but failed to sue within the applicable statute of limitations after the agency issued the notice, your claim may be barred for being untimely. Even after you jump through all procedural hoops though, you must still meet the requirements above (injury, correct party, ability to be compensated).

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Bringing a “good lawsuit” can be complicated, considering the various requirements and all the potential missteps that can occur, it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer who can help you decide how to proceed with your case.