Reasonable Doubt: Should I sue?

Thinking of starting a lawsuit? Kevin Yee gives his readers food for thought beyond the obvious factors.

“What should I do?”

When people see a lawyer for the first time, their meetings typically boil down to this question. For those who have been injured or wronged in any way, this question can be further reduced to: “Should I sue?”

If you dropped by my office to ask me whether you should start a lawsuit, I would give my opinion as to your best course of action. I would point out the important factors to consider before you make the decision. I would emphasize that starting a lawsuit is not my decision. That decision is yours. Only you can decide what’s in your best interest and only you should make the call.

The cost of pursuing a lawsuit is an obvious factor to consider. You may not want to bother with a smaller lawsuit if the costs are too great. Court fees come up regularly throughout the course of a lawsuit. A lawyer can cost $200 to $300 per hour; this may be more or less depending on the lawyer’s experience. Even if you decide to “go it alone”, the costs of investigating and building your case can add up over time.

The strength of your case is important to consider. A lawyer’s training, experience, and objectivity put him or her in a good position to assess your case and predict its outcome. If your case has a low chance of success, you definitely need to know. It’s better to hear it at this point for the first time rather than after you have invested your time, money, and emotions. However, you should not forget that a legal opinion is literally that—it is an opinion and not a promise or guarantee. It is an educated appraisal of the facts that are available at the time.

Starting a lawsuit means giving up privacy. The general public can access court documents and can sit in court to watch trials. If your lawsuit is about personal injury, the opposing side may get investigators to conduct surveillance on you or scrutinize your medical history. The trial decision may be published in databases and include anything the judge might have to say, good or bad, about your character. Despite privacy concerns, social media is becoming a popular source of information and evidence in lawsuits. In a recent decision, the court ordered a plaintiff suing for personal injuries from a car accident to release her vacation photographs from her private Facebook account. The reasoning was that these photographs would show the court how truly injured she was from the accident.

Being involved in a lawsuit can be stressful. You may have to give evidence and be examined by the opposing side. They may push and prod you with questions in order to test how your story holds up. It’s also a real possibility that your friends, family, or colleagues may be required to give evidence about you and face similar treatment.

The prospect of getting money or your “day in court” is attractive. Going to court on principle alone can be a powerful motivator. However, principles can be expensive. Before you decide to go to court as a way of resolving a legal dispute, you should first consider the costs, likelihood of success, loss of privacy, and stress of going through the process. If not, you may find yourself frustrated and disappointed. Despite these cautions, judges perform an important role by ensuring that the process is fair. Our court system provides safeguards so that neither side abuses the process to gain any unfair advantage. The court is a forum for people to assert their legal rights. Only you can decide, perhaps with the guidance of legal counsel, if it’s the right forum for you to air your grievances.

A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.

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