It’s not your imagination. People are getting sued more than ever, and you could be next.
This infographic compiled a few years ago was a real eye-opener, but the trend shows no sign of slowing. In U.S. District Courts alone, the number of civil filings rose 6 percent to 292,076 cases last year.
If you’re afraid of getting sued — the technical term is liticaphobia or litigaphobia — you’re in the right place. I’m not a fan of lawsuits myself, having been hit with one (they lost) and threatened with many more (that went nowhere, thank goodness). The fix is being a proactive consumer, with a prompt, firm response to any threat, and adequate coverage.
Keep meticulous records to avoid lawsuits
As a consumer, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. Keep detailed, exhaustive records of every purchase and every interaction. That’s what Darryl Musick, a publisher from Los Angeles, does.
“I keep a camera or phone with camera at all times to record evidence when needed,” he explains.
Also, always be aware of your surroundings and be extra careful to avoid any interactions that can cause a financial or personal injury or even a perceived injury, he says. In other words, if you even think there’s a chance you could end up getting sued, start taking pictures, collecting names and being proactive.
Respond quickly that you will defend yourself from a lawsuit
One thing I’ve learned from years of consumer advocacy work is this: In order to avoid a lawsuit, you have to meet the challenge head-on. How did I learn that? By brushing off the threats of a small-time operator who got a little bent out of shape by a story I’d written about one of his business partners.
“He wouldn’t sue,” I remember saying to myself after reading his “Cease and Desist” email filled with unreasonable demands. But he did. And the suit went nowhere, but cost me two years of time and effort — time I could have spent helping consumers. What a waste.
Lesson learned? Always respond to a threat and don’t set your phasers to “stun.” Set them to kill. Get the best lawyer you know to write a polite but strongly worded response that will put the fear of God in anyone who tries to take you to court. Let them know you will defend yourself and that you will settle for nothing less than total victory.
Get insurance or a membership service that protects you from a lawsuit
That’s what Debbie Douma, a college administrator from Pensacola, Fla., did when she rented a home. “I purchased a personal liability insurance policy through the company where I insure my car and house rental,” she says. “In our litigious society, it just gives me some peace of mind. Which I guess is the purpose of insurance. We hope to never need it, but we’re glad it is there if or when we do.”
As I writer, I have had insurance that protects me from lawsuits related to defamation. Other professionals can get legal coverage through their insurance companies, but typically the coverage you really need is expensive, and once you get sued (even if it’s unsuccessful), your premiums will go through the roof.
Another option: A legal subscription service like LegalShield, a company that offers basic legal services to its members. I’ve worked with people who have been on the verge of a lawsuit or have been sued, and in my experience, insurance or a legal services company can come to your aid quickly, helping you draft a response letter that can get the case dismissed or dropped. No guarantees, of course.
I should note that I’m not a lawyer and nothing in this story should be construed as legal advice. But isn’t that the point? You don’t want to end up getting sued, and these tips can help you do that.
You don’t need to suffer from liticaphobia. The right attitude, a little paperwork and the correct coverage can keep you out of court.
Have you ever used any of these techniques to keep you safe from a lawsuit? How did they work for you?