3 Elements of Standing to Sue

A plaintiff must have standing to bring a lawsuit against a defendant. A judge can and will dismiss a lawsuit if a plaintiff does not have standing.

The three elements of standing are:

  • Injury in fact
  • Causation
  • Redressability

A plaintiff must meet all three of these elements to sue in federal or state court. You should discuss the issue of standing with an attorney before you file any type of lawsuit.

Injury in Fact

A plaintiff must demonstrate that they have suffered an “injury in fact” before they can bring a lawsuit against another party. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990). In other words, your injuries must be concrete and specific to you rather than being generalized grievances. The injuries must also be actual or imminent, rather than hypothetical.

For example, if your neighbor is a reckless driver who speeds in your neighborhood, you may feel threatened by his actions. If you were to file a lawsuit, a court may find a lack of standing because you haven’t suffered any actual injuries yet. Your fear of being injured is merely hypothetical at this point.

If that same neighbor were to rear-end your vehicle and cause a car accident, you would then have actual injuries. Your property damage, medical bills, and other damages would satisfy the “injury in fact” requirement. A court would likely find that you have the standing to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Causation

The defendant’s conduct must be fairly traceable to your injuries. A court won’t hold a party responsible for their actions if they are too far removed from your injuries.

Consider a severe storm that causes damage to your home. You attempt to sue a corporation for the damages because they regularly pollute the environment and contribute to climate change, which makes severe storms more common. A court may find a lack of causation because the corporation’s actions can’t be fairly traced to your injuries.

Redressability

Redressability means that the court can do something about your injury. Courts have the power to order a defendant to do several things, such as:

  • Perform their duties under a contract (specific performance)
  • Discontinue an action that’s causing harm (injunction)
  • Pay money damages for both economic and non-economic injuries

If a favorable court judgment won’t remedy your injury, you will have no standing to sue. In a personal injury case, injuries are most commonly redressed by the payment of money damages for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses suffered due to the accident.

Standing for Lawsuits Against the Government

Standing is often an important issue in lawsuits filed against the government. Generally, a person can only challenge the constitutionality of a law if that person is subject to the law. 

The standing requirement often limits a court’s power to hear cases that involve general complaints against government actions, such as lawsuits filed by taxpayers. These cases generally lack standing because the taxpayer can’t show how he or she suffered a specific injury from a government’s actions.

Lack of Standing As a Defense to a Lawsuit

The defendant must assert the defense of lack of standing. Even if standing would otherwise be lacking, a defendant has to raise this defense or risk waiving it.

Standing is one of several issues that should be addressed before a lawsuit is filed, along with other questions such as:

  • Has the Florida statute of limitations (generally four years) for filing a lawsuit expired?
  • What types of damages may be recovered?
  • Does the party being sued have insurance?

Talk to a personal injury attorney to find out what other questions you should be asking before filing a lawsuit. Make sure you understand how standing to sue and other legal issues could impact your personal injury lawsuit.