Have you ever sued someone? How stressful was it?
April 29, 2023 1:59 AM   Subscribe

I was wronged. When a lawyer acquaintance saw my evidence, he became excited and asked to represent me on a contingency basis. He thinks it's a strong case. I'm very nervous.

My acquaintance heads up his own law firm. He has a law degree from a Tier 1 law school and over a decade of experience. He has handled many dozens of cases similar to mine, and he says my case is amongst the strongest he's seen. He says 99% of cases are settled before trial.

My fears:
- Will it be years of stress?
- His contingency fee doesn't include defending me if they countersue me. I'd have to pay for that separately.
- The decision-maker for the other side is a single individual who is behaving irrationally and vengefully toward me (who would probably rather set money on fire than give it to me). It's not a committee who is dispassionately choosing to reduce risk by giving a settlement.
- Will the other side say negative dirt about me?
- Would I end up stuck in any situation where I want to give up and withdraw from the case, but I'd have to pay too many accrued costs? So I'd have to keep going with the case?
- If I sign on, will we have misaligned interests because the lawyer wants to maximize the payout, but I also want to reduce stress?
- Even if I win, will the vengeful individual on the other side seek revenge by finding excuses to sue me in the future?
- I felt like he was pushing me towards doing the case. He said he was trying to quell my fears which are overblown given how strong my case is. He offered to drop the topic if I want.
- I don't know how to assess lawyers. Is he a great lawyer? I don't know how to tell.
- I briefly described my case to a different lawyer (without all the evidence), who said it sounds interesting but some of the claims will be difficult to prove.
- This lawyer's contingency rate is higher than other lawyers I've heard of.
- Other lawyers stick to dispassionate "facts of the case", and this lawyer is much more about negotiation and mindset of the other side.

- I do feel quite wronged (it feels physically painful), and it'd be great to feel like I have a powerful ally in seeking justice.
- If I just walk away and do nothing, I might forever feel wronged.

I know that's a huge list of fears and a short list of positives, but the positives are important! When I think about giving up and walking away without seeking justice, I feel a physical pain in my body.

I feel very torn. Sometimes I feel exuberant (almost manic) about proceeding. Other times I feel filled with fear about what could go wrong if I proceed.

Are you a lawyer and can address some of my fears? Or have you sued someone? If so, did you regret it or were you glad? What was your emotional experience?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken to any other lawyers? I think lawyers in many fields will offer a free or low-cost consult to determine whether you have a case and provide an estimate of their fees to represent you. They could probably also answer questions regarding how much personal involvement would be required from you, whether the other side could try to retaliate, etc. If you're doubting the answers your acquaintance is giving you, it might be worth calling a few other lawyers in your jurisdiction before comitting to anything.
posted by nanny's striped stocking at 3:26 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I have to be extremely vague about the details. But, basically, there were legal proceedings because I was discriminated against and I was a whistleblower regarding hinky hijinks at my place of employment.

The financial rewards were fairly miniscule.

My stepping forward (as someone who was willing to go on the record, and had the least to lose by doing so) opened the door for others to speak. The employer was forced to make changes that improved life for everyone who stayed behind.

My fears of retaliation didn't come to fruition. And I'm happy knowing, win or lose, that I stood up and did something.

I would get a second opinion from an attorney who is not a personal friend, and see if you have a case before proceeding.
posted by champers at 3:40 AM on April 29 [9 favorites]

A co worker and I were wronged by a relative of the terminally ill owner of the small business we worked for. Attorneys were very helpful to in negotiating out of court, but even that was incredibly stressful. After somewhat "winning" out of court there was the possibility of taking things further with a lawsuit. We opted not to. In hindsight, I probably should have walked away from the whole situation from the moment issues became apparent. I definitely do not regret the decision not to take matters to court.
I think you are wise to consider the state of mind of your adversary. Provoking irrational people is risky, and it's always possible they may try to seek out-of-court revenge.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:11 AM on April 29

I was involved in years of legal wrangling with an obnoxious relative, though not a lawsuit (so you can ask the mods to delete). In my case, the alternative was losing my house, so I didn't feel I had a choice. At first I thought I didn't need a lawyer, but hiring one turned out to be the best decision possible. Once he was handling everything, the stress level went way down. However, it was still stressful, and I can't prove it, but I'll believe to my dying day that the stress is what caused my cancer. But "I might lose my house" is going to be different from "I was wronged and want justice."

I was also part of a lawsuit against a city over the wrongful death of a relative, and that lawsuit was zero stress for me (just the lawsuit - it was obviously an upsetting situation - we won though, and the city changed their system for handling 911 calls, so it was worthwhile).

A sense of feeling wronged can last for a long time. Even though I didn't lose my house (my relative never really had a leg to stand on, and the court even had her side pay most of my lawyer's fees), I still get very angry just thinking about that whole experience. I would suggest thinking about ten years from now, walking yourself through the different ways this could turn out and asking how you would feel. And I 100% agree with talking to several lawyers and asking them your specific questions.
posted by FencingGal at 5:15 AM on April 29 [8 favorites]

Definitely talk to more than one lawyer. And maybe talk to a trusted friend or therapist who can help you figure out if you're approaching this healthily. You sound (probably rightly so!) afraid of the other person and with afraid of being shamed in public, but think about how much power they actually have vs how good it would feel to block them out of your life completely.

Also - what does justice mean to you? I went through three significant law/money cases where I chose to go public, go to court or settle out of court for different reasons, some involving a large financial loss. Justice meant something very different in each case for me, and I'm (mostly) good with the choices I made. Justice for punishment is overall a bad system that grinds you down as well, no matter what you achieve - think what kind of restoration would make you feel like you can hold your head up high - a large settlement that forces a change? Preventing this happening to others? A public acknowledgement of damage?
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:05 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

I don't have any direct experience to offer, but from reading about other cases you need to be sure that what you really want is a realistic potential outcome from the case, not just that the case is "winnable". So, if it's to be made whole financially then estimate whether they have enough money to potentially support that. If it's an admission of fault, then in some jurisdictions that's tremendously unlikely whereas in others it happens routinely. Pursuing anything like this involves some time and stress, there's little point if even the best outcome would be unsatisfactory to you.
posted by plonkee at 6:56 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]

I sued the owners of a St. Bernard mix that bit my thigh extremely badly when I was riding my bike past their house. I still have the nasty scars to prove it. They broke the leash law by letting their dog run loose.

I met with four lawyers in order to find the one that felt like the best fit, seemed the most competent, and with whom I had the most rapport. The lawyer did everything; I didn't have to have any contact with the dog owners at all. I had the option of going to court, but, as my lawyer pointed out, in my town people are not sympathetic toward cyclists and they have a tendency to have a "my dog has a right to run free" mentality in spite of the leash law, so my lawyer recommended settling out of court, and I accepted that option.

I can say that I feel somewhat vindicated in that winning the lawsuit proved they were in the wrong. But it does bother me that my only option for vindication was monetary. I wanted something more, like a sincere apology from the dog owners and proof from them that they felt sincere remorse - but I never got that. The money just didn't really make up for what they let happen, although it was better than nothing. I invested the money and I use it for good deeds only: donations to charity, sending a kid I know to camp whose parents cannot afford to, etc.

For me, since the lawyer did everything and I never had to see the offenders again, and it was settled out of court, it really was not much of an emotional experience at all. The lawsuit took a very long time to complete ... three and a half years.
posted by SageTrail at 6:56 AM on April 29

I am a lawyer, although judging by the language in your post, in a different country to you. I am often professionally involved in legal proceedings, and have been for many years and in different jurisdictions.

I would never sue someone myself, unless it was a situation where the only alternative was to let my family starve. Not only will it be stressful, but it will consume a significant portion of your headspace both during and after the process. Even if you succeed in the way that lawyers mean, the chances of feeling fully vindicated are low, especially given what you say about the personality of the other party.

You’ve been understandably vague about the circumstances, but unless there are very specific reasons private to you, I would focus my energy and resources on coming to terms with the wrong that has been done to you in some other way so as to achieve peace of mind.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 7:13 AM on April 29 [18 favorites]

I'm sorry you were wronged and put in this position.

Law suits can be a war of attrition. You might have all the evidence in your favour and would win, but the other side can put a bunch of road blocks in the way in the hope of getting you to give up.

OTOH what seems like a determined and unreasonable adversary at the outset can end up being more reasonable after getting legal advice and (more importantly) legal bills.

Re stress, I'd ask the lawyer what you'd be expected to do and consider whether that would cause you stress. For instance, would you be stressed if it was not resolved for a number of years? What if you had to attend court with the defendant present? If you had to collate receipts and put together a bunch of documents about your income and expenses? Find out what's involved and think about whether it's worth it to you.
posted by pianissimo at 7:36 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

Is this a work/business situation or a non-employment individual who wronged you? If the former, it's probably not the individual who would be making decisions about their response to your suit, but their insurance company, which probably has deep experience in responding to suits. It would not be up to the individual who you say would "probably want to burn money rather than give it to you". Usually settlement is the goal: they do not want any part of the case to be public. (See Murdoch/Fox news). They do NOT want this to go to court, where information is impossible to control - the goal is to settle quietly (See Gretchen Carlson, again Fox News).

If you decide on a lawyer and to proceed, the party you are suing is not permitted to contact you at all, and everything goes through your attorney, so there should be greatly reduced stress. Going around the lawyers to harass you is something that pisses off judges and creates prejudice against the party you are suing. Unfortunately, money is pretty much the lingua franca of legal proceedings, though sometimes there can be policy changes mandated (many police departments have had this imposed after losing misconduct cases) and sometimes a public acknowledgemant and apology, (though not in the Murdoch/Fox news cases). If a lawyer is taking this on contingency, there is no cost to you, whatever happens with the case. I have no information about counter-suits if that is a genuine possibility you fear. That's a circumstance to discuss with an attorney.

I've been involved in 2 suits, though not against employers, and they were easy and non-stressful. Neither went to court except for being deposed in a lawyer's office. Everything else flowed between the sides' lawyers, and I got a check in the end. It did take ages, like 2 years for the cases to be resolved. Good luck whatever your decision.
posted by citygirl at 8:17 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I am a lawyer. I often discourage people from suing where the reason is solely a desire for vindication and a sense of justice being done. People usually don't feel vindicated in the end. If they do, it still takes a long time and can be very stressful. It depends somewhat on the subject matter of the lawsuit, which we don't know here.

I think your list of fears is sensible and you should listen to your gut feeling on how the opposing party will behave.

If you are considering this, I do think you should talk to several other lawyers. It's not typical for lawyers I would want to hire to enthusiastically encourage people to sue. You should thoroughly explore the risks. You might achieve a sense of peace about the situation by getting advice that though you do have a good case, your life will be better not doing this. Only you will be able to assess how stressful this will be to you and whether the risks are worthwhile.
posted by lookoutbelow at 8:37 AM on April 29 [13 favorites]

If I just walk away and do nothing, I might forever feel wronged.

I walked away from a lawsuit where we had a good case (as assessed by our lawyer, who was working contingency knowing the $$ payoff was likely limited.) In that case, it was against a hospital. In my province, large punitive damages for medical errors/malpractice leading to death weren't at the time really a thing,* at least not for infants, and hospitals fight every one in order to keep it that way (according to the advice we got at the time.)

For me, I realized that I didn't want to stay in the moments that lead to the lawsuit. There was a lot I wanted from the case - primarily change for the next patients, but also to honour my daughter's life. But I could also see pretty early that the timeline for the legal system was going to force me to focus on those events at a pace that was likely to be at odds with my own need to grieve at my own speed, and to move on where I could. I also delightfully ended up pregnant with my son, so there was that to focus on.

Do I still feel wronged? Yes, sure. from time to time and in general. But in my case there was absolutely nothing, not a billion dollar foundation, that would bring my baby back.

Does it bother me? Occasionally but it's rare and it's for like, half an hour. I imagine (but don't know) that moments from the case would also have stuck with me. The way that the hospital was describing its role was - repugnant.

We did have another route for change via the ombuds office so we took that route. That did help some, but not really enough.

* Largest award at that time for a similar event was $75,000 per parent, so $150,000 - or about the costs of one ob-gyn. This has changed in between, and that was one reason the lawyers were keen on our case - to help move the needle. I don't think that changed our minds very much because the idea of getting money for our daughter's death was kind of repugnant, even if it would have been enough to mean some stability. But it also wasn't sufficiently punitive for a hospital, in our view, to really change.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:44 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

You worry about forever feeling you were wronged: you WERE wronged and you will likely forever feel that way. I certainly do but it’s become such a minor part of my life that I rarely think of it, fortunately, and have become happy again. I never thought I’d feel even OK! While the possibility of winning a case was high, I did not want to spend the money or go through the emotional pain. I’m glad a good lawyer advised me not to as well as a friend who went through a horrible lawsuit — and won. Accessing the money is so hard and complicated so even a win still can feel like a lifetime of loss.

The world is incredibly unfair and injustice abounds. You are now part of a club of people who understand the dark side of humanity that everyone has heard of but not everyone knows what it’s truly like. But we go on, most of us survive and many of us thrive. I do not know what will make to make you feel better! You deserve to feel better and, if suing helps, then definitely do it!! But I’d give yourself some time and ask loved ones as well as other lawyers in your area. It’s one thing for a friend to take it on pro bono but, as soon a price is involved, I’d question motives or at least get a second and third opinion.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:30 PM on April 29

I've been involved in several lawsuits, and I'm also a lawyer so I've seen how other people react to being involved in litigation. I wouldn't recommend doing it unless 1) the principle you are fighting for is intellectually and emotionally important enough to you that you're willing to go through a lot of hassle and stress to vindicate it, or 2) the amount of money you would win would be life-changing.

It's possible that the other party may offer a reasonable monetary settlement very quickly, which is great if you need money and if money will make you feel whole. But if you end up in actual litigation--discovery and depositions and potentially a trial--it is an enormous pain. Among other things, I had to give my lawyers full access to my cell phone and all of my emails and medical records, so that they could read through it all and respond to requests from the other side for relevant documents and information in my possession that the other side demanded in discovery. That made me feel very uneasy, and like a privacy invasion, even though I understood why they needed it and trusted my lawyers not to misuse it. But it was stressful. Then there were depositions, where I had to sit and answer questions from the other side's lawyers. Then there was a trial, which I wasn't required to attend, but I did because I wanted to know what was happening, and that was sort of stressful. I did not have to testify at the trial, but there was a possibility that I might have to. And having represented people who have had to testify in trials, that's also stressful. More so if your suit is something the public or the media might take an interest in.

Depending on what kind of lawsuit you're filing, you may or may not be subjected to invasive discovery and a trial like I was. But it's definitely worth asking your lawyer acquaintance, and a couple of other lawyers, to describe in detail everything that will happen and that you'll have to do if the lawsuit proceeds past the initial complaint and a settlement, and specifically what their realistic assessment is of what you'll win if you win. Your lawyer should also be able to tell you in detail how they intend to get paid, and what happens if you decide to quit, whether you'd owe them any money, and a lot of the other questions you've asked here. But don't just ask that one guy, ask several.
posted by decathecting at 3:48 PM on April 29

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