A contractor took your deposit for a kitchen renovation but, 12 months later, has not started the job and won’t return your phone calls. An employee you fired for insubordination is now threatening to sue you for discrimination. Your labradoodle was bitten by an off-leash husky, and its owner is not willing to pay your veterinary bills.
Do you have legal recourse in these scenarios? Yes. But do you have a case? That depends.
For some conflicts, a viable option is civil litigation—a legal process to resolve non-criminal disputes through monetary and non-monetary remedies. To find out if this is a viable option for your particular conflict, you’ll need to determine whether you have a valid claim that can be resolved through legal action.
In Colorado, civil claims are filed for more than just contract disputes and dog bites. Other situations that might warrant litigation include the following.
Common Types of Civil Lawsuits
Tort or Personal Injury Claims
These claims involve a civil wrong committed by one person or entity to another and result in injury or property damage.
- You slipped and fell and the supermarket, fracturing your hip.
- A disgruntled neighbor threatened to kill your dog after it dug up the neighbor’s daisies.
- The local newspaper published a libelous article about your company that eventually caused you to go out of business.
You may have grounds for a contract claim if an oral or written agreement between you and another party, often in a business setting, has been broken.
- The office supply company you contract with failed to deliver the supplies you ordered by the agreed-upon date.
- The general contractor you hired for your home remodel did not complete the job.
- A client for whom you provided consulting did not pay you for your services.
Discrimination and Harassment Claims
These claims involve the unequal treatment of an individual by an employer or government entity on the basis of a legally protected characteristic such as gender, age, race, or disability.
- Your boss disparaged you in front of other employees with an ethnic slur.
- You and a co-worker have the same title, responsibilities, and experience/qualifications, but your salaries differ because you are different genders.
- You are physically impaired but unable to use your community’s recreational center because it is not ADA compliant.
Family law is civil law that deals with marriage, divorce, annulment, child custody, adoption, birth, child support, same-sex marriage, artificial conceptions, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, palimony, and any other issues affecting families.
- You want to end your marriage.
- You are being abused by your spouse and need a protective order to keep your spouse away.
- You need to establish legal guardianship for a child.
Lawsuits involving property disputes typically involve land, boundaries, trees, noise, or ownership issues.
- The new fence your neighbor built is on your side of the property line.
- A branch from your neighbor’s tree fell on and damaged your garage.
- You neighbor holds band practice at her house every Saturday morning, and although you’ve asked her to turn down the amplifier, she refuses, waking everyone in your household.
Is it Too Late to Litigate?
Another consideration when determining whether litigation is an option is time. You must file a civil action within a reasonable amount of time, as determined by the State of Colorado. Although Colorado’s statutes of limitations generally range from one to three years after an incident has occurred, some civil actions have a six-year limit. The following table provides information on some of the most common claims; however, it is important to speak to an attorney immediately as various limitations periods may apply to your case.
Considering Your Case From Every Angle
Once you determine that time (statutes of limitations) is on your side, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. At this stage in the process, you may want to consult a lawyer—an experienced civil litigation attorney who will assess and evaluate the facts of your case to determine if it has merit. Together, you’ll engage in the following.
Fact-Finding and Verification
With the help of an attorney, you will need to substantiate the facts associated with the claim through investigations, interviews, and the gathering of documentation.
Decide Whether Claims and Defenses Have Merit
The process of determining if a case has merit and whether there are any viable defenses requires a review of relevant state statutes and laws and the applicable verdict form and jury instructions. After gathering this information, an attorney can explain all potentially applicable claims, all potential counterclaims, all defenses (and third-party claims), estimated costs of pursuing the applicable claims, counterclaims, and defenses.
Weigh Risk Against Reward
While the evaluation and strategy of a case is influenced primarily by legal facts, non-legal considerations are also important. For example, you might decide a settlement is in your best financial interest. An attorney can put together a cost-benefit analysis outlining different strategies and their costs. Emotional stress also should be considered. If you’re anxious about the emotional and physical strain of a lawsuit, you might want to take another approach to resolving the conflict.
Size Up the Competition
Before pursuing or responding to a lawsuit, it’s helpful to know what you are up against. When assessing the potential costs of any claim, an attorney can obtain all relevant information about the court, opposing counsel, opposing parties, and the prospective jury pool. Not only will this help you set realistic expectations about financial compensation, it will inform the attorney about your risk tolerance, goals, and the primary concerns of all who are affected by the litigation.
Evaluate the Impact and Influence of Witnesses and Documents
Witnesses and documents (those that favor or disfavor a client) are essential to a case. In addition to helping you identify the best witnesses and documents, an attorney can determine whether subject matter expertise is required, if expert consultants are necessary, and how many witnesses and documents may be needed.
Plan for Various Options and Outcomes
An attorney can create a framework to help you understand the various stages of the lifecycle of a case as well as the options available at each stage. This typically entails identifying the various constituencies, the favored outcomes, and combinations of those outcomes. The result is a plan aimed at achieving the greatest number of objectives with the least amount of harm. In turn, the attorney is able to assess the probability of achieving the desired outcome(s) and your willingness and ability to embrace alternatives.
Is Litigation Your Best Course of Action?
Although going to court to settle a civil dispute is certainly an option, it’s not the only option. The majority of civil disputes are resolved before trial and, in some cases before a lawsuit is even filed. Known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR), this process can occur outside of the court system through settlement, mediation, or arbitration. If the time and expense of going to court exceed your comfort level, ADR may be the answer. The most cost-effective way to resolve a dispute is through a settlement, which is handled directly by the affected parties at any time during litigation. Mediation typically involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate a settlement. Through arbitration, each party agrees to select and use an arbitrator to settle their dispute using binding arbitration, which they then cannot appeal.
Consult an Expert
Litigation is both complex and unpredictable. Because of the numerous variables involved, it is often difficult for someone who is not familiar with legal process to weigh the potential risks of litigation against the potential rewards. Through early case assessment and value proposition tools, however, an attorney can provide expert advice to clients to help them determine the best course of legal action for their particular circumstances. An attorney is obligated to evaluate their client’s claims to ensure reasonable evidence or a reasonable likelihood that evidence will be found to support each claim before filing a lawsuit.
If you are considering civil litigation but uncertain as to whether you have a viable case, a knowledgeable attorney from Robinson & Henry can assess your case and provide you counsel. Contact our office at 303-688-0944 to schedule an assessment.