If someone is threatening to sue a small business but hasn’t served papers yet, if that small business closes can that person still sue?

UPDATED: May 31, 2012

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If someone is threatening to sue a small business but hasn’t served papers yet, if that small business closes can that person still sue?

I work at a tattoo shop where someone is trying to extort money, claiming that they got an infection on their tattoo. It would take 10 minutes in court to prove they didn’t get an infection here but she doesn’t have insurance and cannot afford a lawyer. She has heart issues and has been talking about closing the shop down for a long time anyways. If she shuts down before these people serve us papers, can they sue her directly or the tattoo artist who did the tattoo?

Asked on May 31, 2012 under Business Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If the business was a corporation ("inc.") or limited liability company ("LLC"), then the owner cannot be sued, since the business is a separate legal entity from her. If it was not  a corporation or LLC, but was a sole proprietorship (also called a "d/b/a"), then there is no separate legal entity, the business and the owner are one and the same, and the owner can be sued personally.

The tattoo artist who worked on the woman could be personally sued, if she believes that artist intentionally or negligently (unreasonably carelessly) caused the infection.

To win a case, the customer would have to prove she got the infection from the shop; and she got the infection because of carelessness (such as not sterilizing needles properly) or a deliberate bad act, since without fault on the part of the shop or owner, there would be no liability; and she can only sue for an amount commensurate with the injury, medical costs, and lost wages (if any) she suffered.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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