One of the rights Americans enjoy is the ability to sue anyone over or for anything. Whether or not a person wins, however, depends on the state and federal laws on the books and how they're interpreted. A common issue that causes many plaintiffs to spend money on a losing battle is ignorance or misunderstanding of those laws. Here's what can happen if you don't take the time to consult with an attorney or conduct research before taking action against someone you believe injured you to ensure you have the legal standing to do so.
The Offense May Not Be Considered a Compensable Injury
Many times a person will think what the other party did was illegal or resulted in a compensable injury, but the law doesn't support the person's point of view. For instance, many companies have taken to suing people for posting poor reviews of their businesses online. However, a personal opinion is considered protected speech. Though many people settle out of court to avoid the expense of litigation, if defendants were to take the issue to a judge, they would likely win their cases because of the free speech protection afforded by the First Amendment.
As the plaintiff in this and similar situations, the financial penalty of being wrong would be the cost of litigating the case, which includes paying court and attorney's fees and money lost from taking time off to show up in court. Depending on how long the case goes on for, the costs can quickly add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and you may even be required to pay the attorney's fees of the person you sued.
For instance, in 2009, a pediatric dentist sued a mother for posting a negative review online about the dentist. The case was eventually dismissed by the court and, about 6 months after that, the Superior Court ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal fees amounting to about $80,741.
You Could Be Held Liable for Causing a Compensable Injury
Sometimes in their haste to stop other people from continuing the behaviors the offended individuals finds objectionable, some people take actions that leads to the other party having a viable case for damages against them. Many times, this involves one individual doing something offensive but not illegal, but the offended person doing something illegal or objectionable to get the man or woman to stop.
For instance, an Illinois man created a parody account on a popular social media website parodying the mayor of Peoria. At some point, the mayor became aware of the account and ordered the police to arrest its owner, citing an Illinois law that prohibits people from impersonating public officials. However, the law doesn't apply to parody accounts, which are actually protected by the First Amendment. The victim sued, and the city settled with the individual for $125,000.
Depending on how poorly you handle the situation and the extent of the injury you cause, you could end up paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars resolving the problem. It could even result in other consequences occurring, such as lost business opportunities and bad press.
While you should definitely pursue compensation for damages if you are injured in some way, it is important to first ensure the law is on your side so you avoid spending time and money on a losing case. Before heading to court or taking any other action against the other party, discuss the issue with a personal injury attorney to ensure you have a viable case and to develop a strategy to achieve the outcome you want.