Can I take someone to court over a dispute?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you are having a dispute with someone, you may be able to take the case to court to have it settled. There are a few basic requirements that you need to meet, however. First, you need to be over the age of 18 years old. Second, you need to have a legally valid claim that you are seeking a remedy for. The remedy may be monetary damages (which is the most common remedy) or you may wish to compel someone to do something (i.e. you may be seeking specific performance) or not do something (with an injunction). You cannot, however, take a person to court to seek criminal remedies. Only a prosecutor can do that. There may also be other limitations on your right to sue. 

When Can You Go To Court?

Even if you have a legal cause of action and are seeking a legal remedy, there may be certain instances in which you cannot take someone to court. Three examples of such instances include:

  • The statute of limitations has passed: If it has been too long since the legal wrong occurred, then your claim may be time barred. For example, in many states you only have 2 years from the time of an accident or injury to sue for personal injury damages.
  • You have signed a liability release: If you accepted a settlement or otherwise signed an agreement releasing the potential defendant of all liabilities, then you may not sue him.
  • There is an arbitration clause in your contract: If you are dissatisfied with someone because you believe they have breached a contract, you need to check whether your contract has such a clause or not. If it does, in almost every situation with some limited exceptions, the court is going to enforce your arbitration clause and make you settle the case with an arbitration. 

Getting Help

If you believe you have cause to sue, you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible to determine what steps you need to take in order to start your claim.

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