Why would anyone want to go to court and sue someone? The first thing that comes to mind is money. People want compensation. This is a good reason but did you know that one thing the courts cannot guarantee is that you get your money?
You may win your court order but what if there is no money for you to collect or the defendant has fled the jurisdiction or some other unpleasant event happened and stood between you and your money. There are other two reasons to sue besides getting compensation, and those two at least are guaranteed: avoid the expiry of the limitation period and ask the other side questions under oath.
Reason 1: get compensation
Again, the first reason to sue should always be to correct a wrong. Someone breached a contract, caused you an injury, or hurt your reputation. You suffered losses as a direct result. The law will often recognize your right to get compensation or to change someone’s behaviour. To benefit from your legal rights and to arm yourself with the force of law, you usually must go through a lawsuit and prove your claim in court. At the end of the road, if you convince a judge or a jury, you get a binding court order. You can enforce it against the defendant. But sometimes the defendant has nothing to pay or enforcement is too expensive (I am not even talking about the cost of litigation.) Because this is quite possible, you should know about other good reasons to sue.
Reason 2: get answers under oath
The second reason is that a lawsuit gives you a right to ask the other side questions under oath. Often you can do it both before the trial and at trial, and sometimes only at trial. In any case, you usually don’t get this right outside of a lawsuit, and this is a powerful right because lying under oath can land the defendant in jail (But people do lie under oath.) A lawsuit gives you a power to investigate the case that ordinary people don’t have. Of course, you should have some evidence against the defendant before you sue. Don’t go on fishing expeditions. But the right to ask questions under oath is still a powerful investigative tool, which can help bolster your case, poke holes in the other side’s defence, and find out the truth.
Reason 3: protect your right to sue
The third reason to sue is to protect your right to get relief from the courts. Usually, the courts will not hear your case if too much time has passed since you knew you could sue. The longest time you can wait before suing is called the limitation period. In Ontario, it’s usually two years. That’s it. After that, you simply cannot look for help from the law. You lose your right to sue. It’s a big deal, and sometimes, it makes sense to start the lawsuit just to stop the clock on the limitation period. Also, if you win and get your court judgment, there is a way to keep it in force indefinitely, so even if the defendant is broke or away now, you can go after him years later when he comes back, or buys a house or another asset, or has an income. Going after judgment debtors outside the borders of your home jurisdiction is also possible. How and when are good questions to ask your lawyer.
Do not sue lightly. Always hire a lawyer for legal advice before suing. Litigation is expensive and risky. But you should know that getting your compensation or forcing a person or a company to do something is not the only reason to sue. If someone caused you injury, losses, or other harm, the countdown for your right to sue is on, and don’t count on police to investigate your claim. It’s not their job. Hire a lawyer, at least before suing and for specific parts of your lawsuit. In one of my next posts, I’ll talk about finding a good legal professional.