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Before You Sue: 10 Things to Think About

People involved in disputes -- whether accidents and injuries, family-related issues, or financial disputes -- often rush to judgment and decide to sue. Here are some things to think about before deciding to start a lawsuit.

1. Do you have a good case? This may seem obvious, but you need to have a genuine legal claim or "cause of action" in order to have a court support your position. For example, the mere fact that you might have fallen in a store does not mean you will necessarily be successful if you decide to pursue a "slip and fall" claim. The elements of such a claim will need to be proven, including the store owner's fault in failing to ensure your safety.

2. Have you made a final demand in connection with your dispute? This step also seems obvious, but is often overlooked by people in their rush to the courthouse. If they know they are at fault and are able to make the situation right, most individuals or businesses will do what they can to resolve the matter, rather than be dragged into court.

3. Have you tried to settle the dispute by compromise? Take a realistic look at the other party's point of view. Perhaps he or she has a valid argument, or even a potential claim against you. If so, adjust your own position accordingly. If a dollar amount is at issue, you may want to think about reducing the amount you are asking for. From a purely practical point of view, you may receive more that way than you would by suing, because you will have to pay attorneys' fees and other costs in connection with a lawsuit.

4. Will you be able to collect a judgment if you win? Take a hard look at the financial condition of the party you are going to sue. You want to be reasonably certain that you will be able to collect a judgment before you spend a lot of money on a lawsuit.

5. Do you have the money to pay a lawyer to handle the lawsuit? Lawsuits can be expensive, and recovering your attorneys' fees is often not an option. Ask your lawyer for an estimate of legal fees, and do the math. It may be cheaper to settle.

6. Do you have the time and resources to devote to a lawsuit? A lawsuit may take a lot of time and energy, and can be emotionally draining. Remember that you might find that you have less time and energy to devote to your work, business, family, and social life for the duration of the lawsuit.

7. Are you within the applicable "statute of limitations"? Check with your lawyer to make sure that any time limits for filing a lawsuit have not run (laws that place a time limit on bringing a lawsuit are called "statutes of limitations").

8. Where will you be able to sue? If you are suing someone from a different state, a court in your state may not have power or "jurisdiction" over that person. In that case, you might have to sue the defendant in his or her location, which will probably be more expensive and inconvenient for you.

9. Is your claim small enough to bring in "small claims" or "conciliation" court? Each state's court system has some variation of "small claims" or "conciliation" court, which only hear disputes in which a certain dollar amount is at issue (usually $5,000 or less).

10. If you bring your claim in small claims or conciliation court, will you represent yourself? If your case meets the requirements for small claims court, you will usually be able to represent yourself, if you wish. You will save attorneys' fees by doing so. However, you may wish to pay an attorney to coach or advise you how to prepare your case.

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