Even as an individual, you can sue a company for a wide variety of reasons. The most common types of lawsuits against companies include:

  • Products liability;
  • Personal injury;
  • Breach of contract;
  • Violation of federal law such as misuse of Medicare/Medicaid funds;
  • False advertising;
  • Discrimination;
  • Sexual harassment; and
  • Tax fraud.

What Types of Companies Can Be Liable?

Virtually any company can be held liable under state and/or federal law. This includes:

  • For-profit companies;
  • Solo practitioners;
  • Non-profit organizations;
  • Local and state governments;
  • Federal agencies; and
  • Schools.

For example, a store is generally responsible for maintaining its building in a safe condition for shoppers. If a store is aware of a giant puddle on its premises that is very slippery and blends in with the ground, then the store is responsible for preventing the puddle causing harm to its shoppers.

However, assume that the store fails to clean up the puddle in a reasonable amount of time. A shopper does not see the puddle, and they slip and fall in the puddle as a result. The store can be sued for personal injury damages, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

How to Sue a Business

There are steps to follow when pursuing a lawsuit against a business. Below are some basic steps for doing so:

  1. Though not required by the law, it is usually best to try to resolve the issue prior to initiating litigation. Report your problem to the company in writing, follow up with any requests for more information, and explain your position. The company may agree to satisfactorily resolve the problem for you. 
    1. For instance, if a property management company has not returned your security deposit after your move-out, the company may be able to resolve the issue without a lawsuit. The company may explain the check was lost in the mail and reissue a new check.
  2. If you are unable to resolve the issue on your own, gather any and all information you can to support your claim. 
    1. For instance, if you would like to sue a company for sexual harassment in the workplace, gather any evidence you have such as e-mails, letters, reports, and text messages that may support your claim or incriminate the company. Gather any contracts involved in your claim. if your case involves medical records, police reports, insurance claims, receipts or photo evidence, you will need to gather that information as well. 
    2. You may also want to write down your memories of the events leading to your case, and identify anyone who may be able to serve as a witness for your case. Essentially, any evidence you have that proves your case should be gathered.
  3. Determine what claims you have and what type of damages you are interested in. Damages can take many forms, such as monetary compensation or a replacement product. A claim can be under state or federal law, depending on the subject matter of the case and the amount of monetary damages sought. 
    1. Some cases may also be filed in small claims court, for money damages in small amounts, and depending on the subject matter of your case. Both plaintiffs and defendants may represent themselves in small claims court. States will have their own individual rules regarding what claims should be filed in smalls claims and state courts. 
    2. An attorney can help you sort through your claim and determine where it should be filed. Be aware that there are statutes of limitations, or time limits, on how long you have to file a case, depending on the type of case it is, so you should pursue the matter without delay.
  4. Identify the business/defendant. The business’s legal name might be different than the business name consumers know. 
    1. Also, identify what state(s) they do business in. They will need to be sued in a jurisdiction in which they do business, so that the court will have to power to require them to respond to your claim. 
    2. Or, you could sue the business in federal court, if the subject matter and amount of compensation sought in your case qualify it for federal court. The Secretary of State in the state in which the business was incorporated should have a record of their legal business name.
  5. If you choose to represent yourself in small claims court, you will need to file a complaint in court and have the defendant served with notice, as well as prepare your case, gather evidence and subpoena any witnesses you will need. You will also need to pay a filing fee.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Sue a Company?

Lawyers are crucial if you decide to sue a business. Even in small claims court, it could be helpful to consult with an attorney as you are starting out. The state and federal legal systems are very complex, and there are multiple considerations to account for, including which court to file in, which claims to choose, anticipating defenses, whether to settle or go to trial, investigating claims and counterclaims, choosing witnesses, and conducting discovery.

In addition, a company will likely have unlimited resources to fight your claim, as well as an in-house legal team to fight you every step of the way. A local business lawyer can help you evaluate your potential claims, investigate your case, and advocate for your rights.