Do I Have a Case?

This is an informational resource for how to think about whether you might have a case.

Although each Judge, Lawyer and Arbitrator may take a different approach in deciding whether you have a valid claim, the items listed below are the types of things they often think about when evaluating a case. It is not legal advice and every individual case varies.

The law also varies state to state, so please use this as a checklist of common things to think about when deciding if you might be able to successfully take action on a claim, either with FairClaims or through the court system, rather than a final determination on your dispute.

How can I think about whether I have a case?

Broken Promise (aka Breach of Contract)

Examples: unpaid invoice, job wasn’t performed, job wasn’t properly performed

  1. There was an agreement or understanding, whether written or verbal.
    • The key here is whether you and the other side both believed you had an agreement, i.e. there was a “meeting of the minds.” Learn more.
    • It can be something you discussed in person, via text/email or something that was formalized in a written agreement.
    • See below for more info about evidence. It's always better if it’s in writing to best protect yourself and prove there was an agreement.
      • Some agreements must be written to be valid, i.e. contracts that take longer than 1 year to complete, real estate sales, agreements to pay someone else’s debt, real estate leases that last longer than 1 year, high dollar amount contracts (varies state to state), and wills. Learn More.
  2. At least some portion of that agreement or understanding was not honored, or a promise was broken.
  3. You lost money or suffered other damages because of it. Some examples:
    • You did not get paid money you expected to get paid
    • You lost money because of a broken promise by the other side
    • Pain and Suffering
    • Municipal fines for non-compliance with codes

Disagreement over something in an agreement (interpretation)

Examples: you bought a new TV from someone and thought it would be 50 inch but it was only 30 inch; you hired a web developer to build you a website but he thought it meant 3 pages of a site and you thought it meant 10

  1. There was an agreement or understanding, whether written or verbal.
    • The key here is whether you and the other side both believed you had an agreement, i.e. there was a “meeting of the minds.” Learn more.
    • It can be something you discussed in person, via text/email or something that was formalized in a written agreement.
    • See below for more info about evidence. It's always better if it’s in writing to best protect yourself and prove there was an agreement.
      • Some agreements must be written to be valid, i.e. contracts that take longer than 1 year to complete, real estate sales, agreements to pay someone else’s debt, real estate leases that last longer than 1 year, high dollar amount contracts (varies state to state), and wills. Learn More.
  2. You each did what you thought you were supposed to do but you disagree over what that means.
    • So for example - you expected a contractor to finish all the work promised for a flat rate of $5,000 and the contractor says it’s a down payment for a limited number of hours and you actually owe extra money for extra hours spent
  3. You lost money or suffered other damages because of it. Some examples:
    • You did not get paid money you expected to get paid
    • You lost money because of a broken promise by the other side
    • Pain and Suffering

Property Damage or Personal Injury

Examples: car accident, a contractor damaged your home when doing work, dry cleaners tore your favorite dress or suit, tenant damaged your property

  1. Someone injured you or damaged your property in some way
  2. And was both responsible for and a key cause of at least some of the injury or damage

Security Deposit Dispute

  1. Your landlord withheld some or all of your security deposit after you moved out
  2. You have some reason to believe the landlord should not have done so, i.e. your landlord says you damaged the floor but you did not or think you were overcharged for that damage

Note: you typically need to give the landlord a certain reasonable amount of time to return your security deposit. Please check your state’s laws on this point before demanding any security balance you believe you are due.

Statute of Limitations

Don’t forget about the statute of limitations AKA “use it or lose it”

There is typically a deadline for making a claim in court. In many states, the time limit on filing (AKA “statute of limitations”) will depend on the type of claim. In California, for example, you have 4 years to make a claim on a written contract, and 3 years to file for property damage. The time limit on oral contracts and personal injury is a little shorter - if you don't sue within 2 years, you can't. See the statutue of limitations for all 50 states here.

How can I think about whether I have a good case?

Evidence

The more evidence you have to support what you are saying, the better chance you have of winning. Some things to consider:

  • Written evidence helps a lot, i.e. email, text messages, letters, notes
  • Photos can be helpful for proving damage was done and showing the extent of the damage - particularly before and after photos
  • Agreements - if you have a written agreement with the other side that could be important and the judge or arbitrator would likely want to see it, if it’s relevant to the issue at hand
  • Invoices - if you had to pay someone else to fix something and are asking the other side to reimburse you, for example, it’s usually a good idea to submit that as evidence
  • Even if you don’t have written evidence you may still have a case because you are able to be your own credible witness as to what happened
    • Some cases come down to she said, she said. And the judge or arbitrator will do his or her best to evaluate who is telling the truth under oath.

See tips specific to FairClaims here.

Witnesses

It’s often helpful if you have a credible witness who can speak to what happened in some way.

If so, you’ll want to make sure your witness is available to appear with you during a hearing or make a sworn written statement for example. FairClaims allows each party to have a witness join the online hearing; we also let you upload a short video or written statement from a witness.

Witnesses should have direct knowledge of the situation - this is much more effective than someone saying you told them x, y and z. Though that can sometimes help as well, depending on the situation.

Ability to Collect

It’s always helpful to have address, phone, email, job and even bank account information on the other side so you can collect on a court judgment or arbitration award against them. So this is something to consider when you’re deciding whether to bring a claim - if you win, do you have a better chance of collecting.

FairClaims claimants get paid up to 90% of the time without need for further action. And you have a strong likelihood of collecting through collections or judicial confirmation and enforcement if they’re in the other 10%. We allow both sides to agree on payment plans which helps make it work for everyone.

See more resources for collecting here.

Should I hire a lawyer?

You can certainly hire a lawyer to help you evaluate your case, attempt to resolve your case, and take other action such as writing a demand letter or filing a lawsuit.

It all depends on the case really. Beyond the amount of money at stake, hiring a lawyer might be an effective way to pursue or defend against a claim for a variety of reasons.

You may want to consider the following factors in deciding whether to hire an attorney:

  • How much money is at stake? Beyond a demand letter which may cost $1,000+, it may not make sense to hire an attorney for smaller cases since it may cost more to pay them than you might recover if you win.
  • How important is this matter to you, outside of the money at stake?
  • Will the lawyer take the case on contingency (meaning they only get paid if you win)? Many lawyers have a minimum amount they look for on contingency cases some lawyers won’t take cases on contingency for claims below $1 million.
  • Can I take this to small claims court or do I need to file a full lawsuit? Small claims usually limits your claims to $3-10,000 depending on where you’re located. See dollar limits in all 50 states here.
  • Can I try to negotiate things myself?

Should I go to small claims court?

  • You first need to determine if it’s an option based on the amount and substance of the dispute.
  • Are you able to locate and serve the defendant?
  • Are you able to appear in court on the hearing date provided? You likely won’t get to choose your court date and will need to set aside a few hours to appear.
  • Do I have address, work, bank account or other information on the defendant so that I can collect on my judgment if I win and the defendant doesn’t make payment?

Should I try FairClaims?

There’s no fee to use FairClaims unless the other side signs up, so you have nothing to lose!

  • If you’ve decided you may have a case and also have a chance at winning your case you may want to consider FairClaims as a faster, more convenient alternative.
  • Or, if you’re a defendant you may want to consider inviting the other side to use FairClaims rather than court.
  • Your claim can be up to $15,000 or, in some cases, even higher (we evaluate case by case) and it only takes a couple minutes to file.
  • Do you have a valid email address for the other side?
  • Do you have access to a webcam or phone for your hearing?