How to File a Lawsuit Against a Company
Understand the steps to suing a company
on September 21, 2022
Updated on January 11, 2023
There are many reasons why someone might want to sue a company.
For example, the party who wants to sue could be:
- A person who was harmed by a company’s product
- A customer who was injured on the company’s premises
- An employee who was wrongfully terminated or harassed
- A patient who suffered medical malpractice
- Another company that experienced a breach of contract
Just as there are many different parties who might want to sue, many kinds of entities can be the target of a lawsuit:
- For-profit businesses
- Non-profit organizations
- Federal, state, or local/municipal agencies
Depending on the state, a company may be required by law to have legal representation. Individuals, by contrast, can sue without the help of a lawyer.
However, speaking with a business lawyer about your case is always a good idea. The law is complex, and filing a lawsuit can be complicated and time-consuming. Missing a deadline or not fully understanding the law can negatively impact your case.
Because of this, people considering legal action should call a lawyer, says Georgia business litigation attorney Benjamin I. Fink.
This article will explain how to file a lawsuit against a company. After getting a sense of the process, consider speaking with an experienced business law attorney about your situation.
What are the Types of Lawsuits Against a Company?
There are many legal theories on which you can sue a company. The type of lawsuit you bring will depend on your legal issues with the company.
Some of the most common types of cases include:
- Breach of contract
- Intellectual property right infringement
- Personal injury lawsuits, including premises liability (slip and fall) and class actions for product liability (defective products)
- Medical malpractice lawsuits against hospitals or other healthcare providers
- Employment law issues, including wrongful termination, workers’ compensation, wage and hour issues, workplace discrimination, and sexual harassment
Cases like breach of contract and intellectual property infringement are typically brought by one company against another.
Personal injury cases are generally brought by individual customers or users of a company’s product, sometimes in class action suits. The same is true of medical malpractice claims, where an individual sues a healthcare provider or insurance company.
Employment law issues are brought by employees against their employer.
Where Do I File a Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is a civil case. Civil lawsuits can be filed in state or federal court, depending on your legal issue.
Deciding where to file suit depends on:
- Whether the legal issue involved is a state or federal law issue (subject matter jurisdiction)
- Where the defendant resides or conducts business (personal jurisdiction)
A court must have both subject matter and personal jurisdiction to hear a case.
In most cases, you will file suit in state court. This is because state courts are authorized to hear not only state law issues but most federal law issues as well. In other words, state courts have subject matter jurisdiction over most cases.
There are only a few legal issues over which federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction, including intellectual property (copyright, patents) and federal tax law cases.
For example, if you have a discrimination claim against your employer under federal anti-discrimination law, you can pursue that claim in state court.
To figure out which state court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant, consider:
- Where the company you are suing is incorporated
- Where the company does most of its business
You may also sue in the state where the incident you are suing for occurred.
If you do file in a federal court instead of a state court, your case must either involve:
- An issue of federal law. In business litigation, this could include intellectual property cases, antitrust cases, and federal anti-discrimination laws.
- Diversity of citizenship. This is where the plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states. Individuals are citizens of the state where they have their principal residence. Corporations are generally considered citizens of the state where they are incorporated or where they have their principal place of business.
Again, most federal law issues can be handled in both state and federal courts.
Deciding between federal or state court in cases where you have both options is often a matter of legal strategy and practical considerations. For example:
- Which court is closer to where you live?
- Does one court have a longer statute of limitations than the other?
- What do you know about the judges? Would one judge be more favorable to your case than another?
Figuring out where to file is a crucial step in filing a lawsuit. It can be surprisingly complicated to figure out jurisdiction and the best strategy. It’s best to speak with a lawyer about where to file your case.
Should I File in Small Claims Court?
An alternative to suing in civil court is to file suit in your state’s small claims court.
Small claims courts are specialized courts that handle cases involving relatively small amounts of money. You can represent yourself in small claims court, and it’s a cheaper option than the traditional litigation process.
“Each state is different with the amount handled in small claims court,” says Fink. The cap in Georgia, for example, is $15,000. Many states have caps under $10,000.
So, a small claims case might be a good option if you have a dispute involving a relatively small sum of money—for example, in a breach of contract.
However, small claims cases are not suitable in situations involving complex litigation or a large amount of money.
What Are the Steps to Sue a Company?
The process for filing a lawsuit will vary depending on whether you file in small claims court or civil court.
The process will also vary depending on your state’s rules of civil procedure. As the name implies, these rules govern legal procedures in civil court, from the format of legal documents to deadlines for filing motions.
In general, however, the steps are:
- Determine your claim or the legal theory you are suing under (breach of contract, personal injury, etc.)
- Gather evidence for your claim, including documents, communications, photos, videos, etc.
- Get the facts about the business you are suing, including the type of business, its full legal name, whether a parent company owns it or if it has subsidiaries, where it is located, where it conducts business, etc.
- Using information about the business, determine the proper court and jurisdiction.
- Figure out the statute of limitations in the state where you are suing. How long do you have to file suit?
- Write a demand letter (also called a complaint) detailing the facts of your claim and the monetary compensation (relief) you seek
- File the demand letter with the court along with required filing fees and court forms and formally deliver a copy of the demand letter to the defendant (party you’re suing)
- The defendant will have the opportunity to answer your demand letter/complaint. They can dispute your claims and even bring counterclaims against you.
- The judge will issue a scheduling order that sets various deadlines for the litigation process
- The discovery process will begin, during which the parties gather evidence relevant to their case
- The trial before a judge or jury, in which the two sides present their cases
- A verdict is issued
- Parties have the opportunity to appeal a decision
A settlement may occur between the parties at any point in the process. Many cases do not get to the trial phase because they settle ahead of time.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Sue a Company?
The answer to this question “depends,” says Fink.
“If it’s a complex matter or something that involves enough money in dispute, you would want to have a lawyer draft and file a lawsuit.”
On the other hand, “if it’s something that maybe doesn’t justify involving a lawyer for cost reasons, then look into what the options are in terms of small claims court,” he says.
“The other important thing [to realize] is that in most states, a business cannot represent itself in a lawsuit other than in the small claims court,” says Fink.
“So in the regular state, superior, or federal court, a company must have counsel. It can be in-house counsel, but it has to be a lawyer.”
This is “because a company doesn’t exist except through people, so if someone in the company is trying to represent the company in court, that person is essentially practicing law,” he says.
“That may not be true of individuals,” says Fink, since “individuals can always represent themselves in court. But companies cannot [represent themselves] in most states unless it’s in small claims court.”
Even for individuals who can, in theory, represent themselves, it’s best to speak with a lawyer for advice about your case.
Questions for a Business Attorney
If you are a business owner, customer, or employee considering legal action against a company, consider speaking with a business lawyer about your legal problem as soon as possible.
Many business litigation lawyers provide free consultations. These meetings let you get legal advice and help you decide if the attorney and law firm meets your needs.
To get the most out of a consultation, ask informed questions such as:
- What are your attorney’s fees and billing options?
- Do you have particular areas of specialty?
- What legal services do you offer to businesses?
- What claims do I have against the company?
- What is the statute of limitations in my state?
- What are the steps in the litigation process if I take legal action?
- How long does a court case last?
Once you have met with a lawyer and gotten your questions answered, you can begin an attorney-client relationship.
Look for a business litigation attorney in the Super Lawyers directory to find the right lawyer for your business-related legal issues.