Although my practice focuses primarily on family law, I receive many questions about the law in general. One of the most popular questions I’m asked is, “Do I have a case?” More often than not, the answer to this question depends on many factors that may not be readily apparent to the person asking the question or to me. But there are times when a person obviously does or does not have a viable claim. Here are three quick examples.
1. If you have no damages (or injury), you probably don’t have a case.
The three prongs to any successful legal claim are liability (the defendant is responsible for the harm that befell you); causation (the defendant caused the harm); and damages (you suffered in some way because of the defendant’s actions or inaction). If any of these three prongs are missing, you do not have a winning case. Specifically, if you can’t point to a tangible harm that you suffered, whether it be medical bills, lost wages, or a loss in revenue, you’re going to have a difficult time persuading a judge or jury that your claim is meritorious. This rule applies to all types of cases from car accidents to defamation. You have to be able to quantify how you were specifically harmed in court.
2. Contracts: usually only the written ones are enforceable.
Similarly, people sometimes sue one another over verbal agreements. This is almost always a fool’s errand. If a court is to determine your rights under a contract, it must be memorialized in writing in some way. I’ve witnessed plaintiffs rely on text messages and emails to weave together a contractual obligation against a party. Although it’s not the best way to memorialize an agreement, at least they have written proof that some type of meeting of the minds took place that may have given rise to an obligation for either party. Any issue of substance that accompanies money exchanging hands for goods or services should be clearly elucidated in a written contract. If something goes wrong or someone fails to perform as agreed, you then have proof to take to court about your expectations going into the deal. Just remember: a verbal contract’s not wroth the paper it’s written on. Never rely on a handshake alone.
3. Personal vendettas make for lousy lawsuits.
When an individual decides to sue another person because of a personal grudge or misunderstanding, that person is welcoming an expensive lesson. The costs and toil associated with litigating a claim are great enough that I always encourage potential plaintiffs to consider every option before filing a lawsuit against anyone for emotional reasons. Hurt feelings are not enough to prove a claim for defamation, and neither is malicious gossip, especially if it is true. The emotional component associated with a decision to sue another person or company is a real consideration that must be addressed head on. I counsel my clients to resist unnecessary legal expenses if pride or bruised ego are the primary motivation for the lawsuit. No grudge is worth squandering your nest egg, especially if it could be settled out of court more economically.
For more information about what your legal rights are in different scenarios, feel free to check out the blog archives and for a consultation about your specific circumstances, give us a call at (713) 574-8626. We’ll be glad to hear from you!