Before you decide you need to sue someone, answer these questions.

Before you decide you need to sue someone, answer these questions.

Bad things happen to good people all the time.

“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.”  Dennis Wholey

Just because someone did something that is wrong, unfair, or even illegal, it doesn’t mean that filing a lawsuit is the right answer, or even a mildly good one. So before you decide you need to sue someone, answer these questions.

  1. How much of it was your fault?  You and a good lawyer can rationalize your position and come up with a great story about why it’s all the other guy’s fault, and not even remotely yours. But the truth is, you probably had a part in it. Even if you didn’t, the other side’s main goal in a lawsuit is to make it look like it was your fault, or at least that your view is completely wrong.
  2. How much time do you want to spend on it?  Lawsuits take a long time. The other side will not just realize they were wrong because you file a complaint against them. In fact, they will get angry and become more entrenched in their position. So be prepared to spend at least a year, maybe several before the case is resolved.
  3. How much emotional energy do you have to give it?  Lawsuits keep you stuck in the past, reliving the accident, or betrayal, or wrong that happened. Your lawyer can help with the legal work, but she won’t be able to fix the emotional stress and anger that you will go through during the process. You will need some support. And if you get professional support, they will help you figure out how to not be stuck and let go. So it’s worth asking whether you can do that now, or whether you need to invest in legal fees and therapy before you do. If you think you can skip the therapy, it’s good to understand that an extremely effective way to ruin a relationship is to drag it into the stress and emotional drama of a lawsuit.
  4. Is money good enough? Lawsuits can’t get you revenge. Even trial and a verdict in your favor will be an anti-climax. The verdict will usually be appealed and the case will go on even longer. If you do eventually get a judgment, the other side can declare bankruptcy and get out of paying it. Usually though, the case will settle for some amount of money, which is way less than you thought you would ever take before you started. But you are willing to go even lower now, just to make the process end.
  5. Is it a matter of principle?  Sometimes people tell me they are not doing it for themselves; it’s a matter of principle. They want justice and to prevent it happening again to someone else. I tell them how long they have to bring their lawsuit (the statute of limitations), and give them the names of several good therapists. Lawsuits do not stop weasels and sociopaths. Ever. They just find a different way and a new victim.

There are some cases worth pursuing. They usually involve larges sums of money, think at least six figures, and a dispute that is more transactional than emotional, where you can make a business case for spending the time, money, and effort to do it. Even then, litigation is, at best, a tool to create economic leverage in order to settle the dispute. It is almost never a real solution.

And if you have read through this and are still not sure, imagine taking out your checkbook and writing me a check for $50,000 to receive absolutely nothing in return. You can send it care of the HR Examiner.

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