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Published: 2008-03-26

Frequently Asked Questions about Pursuing a Civil Lawsuit



How long does a lawsuit take from start to finish?
The order and progress of the investigation of the potential lawsuit, as well as the initial filing of the lawsuit, should that become necessary, is a process which cannot be accomplished in a short period of time if it is to be handled properly. To best represent you, it is generally in your best interest not to hurry the process of litigation. But note, your attorney should try to resolve your situation as quickly and as diligently as possible, always keeping your best interests in mind.

What should I look for in selecting an attorney to represent me?
The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. You should inquire into the lawyer's education, training and experience, and speak with the attorney to determine his or her qualifications and the reputation of the firm. Be sure you understand the attorney's fee schedule before you retain an attorney. Always ask about the possible adverse consequences if your case is lost. Be sure you feel comfortable with the attorney before making a decision. Make sure you hire an attorney who has the time and interest to pursue your interests and advise you of the pertinent aspects of your case.

What kinds of things should I consider before pursuing a civil lawsuit?
There are a few important legal questions you should ask. First of all, do you have a valid claim? A valid claim is one where the grievance can be resolved by legal action. For instance, and by way of example only, say you decide to take a cruise and the ships captain gets a little tipsy one night, running the ship aground. You are thrown from your bed, breaking your arm and suffering a concussion. You would have a pretty good negligence case against the captain and the cruise company. But say instead that it was cloudy for the whole week of your cruise, thwarting your planned dream tan. Unless the cruise company had made a specific guarantee of sunny weather (which is very unlikely), your disappointment has no legal remedy.

Next, do you have standing? To initiate a lawsuit you must have standing, which means you must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand. In other words, you can't sue just because something bad happens. Also, something bad must happen to you, or have had an adverse effect, directly or indirectly, upon you. For instance, you cannot sue your local paper for libeling your best friend. You also cannot sue a local developer just because a building he designed is excruciatingly ugly. If, however, the building is next door to your home and would block your light or somehow directly intrude on your property, then you might have standing to try and stop the development. Lastly, each state has laws, known as statutes of limitations, that require you to bring a suit within a certain period after an injury. The time limits vary from state to state and for different types of cases. Some limits may be as short as thirty (30) days, and they are seldom greater than six (6) years. In cases where the injury is not immediately apparent (for example, a person has been exposed to a substance which causes cancer may years later) the time period in which a person can bring a lawsuit usually starts when the person knew or should have known of the injury. Typically, in Florida, some of the statutes of limitations are as follows:

  • Personal Injury/Negligence
  • 4 years
  • Wrongful Death
  • 2 years
  • Medical Malpractice
  • 2 years
  • Cruise ship liability by contract
  • 1 year
  • Judgments
  • 20 years

In medical malpractice cases, some states have absolute time limits on how long after an injury a person may sue, no matter how long it took the patient to realize the injury may have been wrongfully caused.

Once you've considered these legal questions, the most important question is whether a lawsuit can in fact solve your problem. You may have a grievance with someone, but suing won't necessarily help. Litigation can take years, and lawyers are expensive (though in some cases you will not have to pay up front). The time, money and effort involved in a lawsuit are not always worth it B even if you win B so you should objectively analyze your chances. Do you have evidence? Witnesses? Can you prove with the assistance of your attorney, that the other party violated some legal duty to you? Also, you should think about the personal effect of litigation. The other party will likely try to discredit you and your claims, which can be one of the more painful parts of the adversarial process. You might also consider whether your case will draw a lot of publicity, and if so, whether you want it. Most significantly, analyze whether your personal feelings, anger, resentment, hostility, or other motivation may be clouding your objectivity in determining your chances of success.

How do I know if I have a legitimate claim for a lawsuit?
The easiest way to determine whether you have a viable claim(s) is to consult an attorney who is experienced in that area. He or she will be in a better position to evaluate your situation and make a determination of your claim(s). You may reach us by phone, facsimile, email, eFax, or regular mail with an inquires.

How much money will bringing a lawsuit cost me?
It depends on your situation. A significant portion of our cases involve a contingent fee contract. This is an arrangement between attorney and client whereby attorney agrees to represent client with compensation to be a percentage of the amount recovered; e.g., 33 1/3% if the case is settled, 40% if the case goes to litigation, plus costs. In other circumstances, we will represent a client on a hourly basis if the case calls for such a contract, in which case a retainer agreement may be made. In either instance, we will fully apprize you of our fee arrangement before we begin our representation of you. You will, of course, have the opportunity to review the fee arrangement details, and make all pertinent inquiries so you feel comfortable with the Agreement, and proceeding with the matter.

How will I know the status of my lawsuit once I hire you?
The best way to determine the status of your lawsuit is to call our office. We always try to speak with our clients immediately or within twenty-four (24) hours after your call. If the attorney handling your matter is unavailable for any reason please ask to speak to someone else if it is an urgent matter. Your peace of mind in the entire legal process is a priority for our firm. Please do not hesitate to call, fax, eFax or e-mail your questions or thoughts regarding your case, and to keep us fully apprized of all aspects of matters affecting you and our representation of you or your company.

Some practical advice for consumers:
Life is full of frustrations, especially for consumers facing big corporations and impersonal storekeepers. While the legal system entitles consumers to certain rights and protections, suing is rarely the most efficient way to solve a problem Your first step should be to contact the individual or company that sold you the goods or the company that manufactured them.

If you cannot resolve the problem that way, write to the person i n charge of handling complaints, either at the store or the manufacturer, or both. Give detailed information about what you bought, including model and make numbers, what the problems are, and photocopies of any relevant information, such as sales receipts, warranties, contracts and canceled checks. State specifically what resolution you would like, and give the company a reasonable time to respond.

Send copies of your complaint letter to your local Better Business Bureau, state consumer protection agencies, and appropriate federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and even the U.S. Postal Service (if you bought the product through the mail). Note on your complaint letter to the company that you have sent copies to these agencies. When confronting a possible investigation from a regulatory agency or consumer protection bureau, many companies will be anxious to reach a satisfactory solution to avoid having a complaint on record.

If the company does not respond within a reasonable time, write again, summarizing your first letter and asking for action or response. You may also want to contact your local media's consumer reporters. If the company still fails to respond, you may decide to pursue a court case. It may be appropriate to pursue your case in small claims court. Or you may try alternative dispute resolution.