How many times have you been lied to, mistreated, cheated or abused and wondered, “can I sue the bums for this?” You only need read the daily paper to know the easy answer. Yes, if you have the $75 filing fee you can sue just about anybody for anything. However, actually finding a lawyer willing to take your case is often a different story.
There are many types of legal theories to base a lawsuit on but there are some common characteristics that most suits must have in order to make the case viable for an attorney to invest time and money in it. Here are some basics.
First, there must be some conduct, an act or failure to act by the person or company you want to sue that creates a legal cause of action. In other words, there must be a promise broken, a careless or intentional act or some other event that the law does not allow. Often the conduct is a failure to deliver on a contractual promise or a failure to exercise reasonable care.
Second, assuming the “bum” has acted or failed to act in conformance with the law you must be able to show that this in fact caused you some harm. For example, if your contract says the dealer will deliver to you your new car on Thursday but you are out of town Thursday, the fact it wasn't delivered until Friday hasn't caused you any harm. If a doctor carelessly removes your gallbladder while cutting out a cancerous growth on your liver, if the gallbladder turns out to also have cancer the doctor's carelessness did not cause you harm; he actually did you a favor by removing the cancerous gland.
Last, you need to have been actually harmed by the improper conduct. This is where so many potential cases end up in the ditch. The conduct of the “bum” may be outrageous and clearly the type of conduct a person can sue for, but if the conduct didn't actually harm you, or in many cases, harm you significantly, you may not be able to find a lawyer to take your case. Why?
Let's take a medical negligence as an example because these are the type of cases where this becomes a major hurdle. Medical negligence cases are expensive. You must have expert witness to prove liability, another to prove causation and usually several to prove damages. It can cost as much if not more than $100,000 to pursue such a case due to the high costs of this type of litigation. Because the lawyer only gets paid if he or she wins your case, most medical negligence lawyers will only take the case if the injury is extreme and permanent. If the case doesn't have the potential to recover half a million dollars or more it just isn't cost effective to pursue.
Often we hear of cases where the conduct was bad but the damages are nothing more than hurt feelings and inconvenience. While technically a suit could be filed, as a practical matter if the damages aren't significant enough it just doesn't make sense to pursue it.