There are many reasons why you might be looking to sue a company. It might be for personal injury or negligence, or because they owe you money.
It can be a daunting prospect to take on an organisation that has greater resources at its disposal and more experience than you of the legal process. This makes it critical to be informed about your rights and the other party’s obligations, which usually means taking legal advice to understand the options open to you.
In this guide, we look at the process of how to sue a company and explain the most common types of claim people bring against businesses.
Types of claims against companies
The type of action you are looking to bring will determine the particular issues to be considered and the process to follow.
Small claims debt recovery
If a company owes you a debt, you can apply to the courts to recover the outstanding amount.
Small claims are usually those that are for a value of up to £10,000 and are often used to get compensation or refunds of small monetary value. Often called “money claims”, they are simple claims that can be brought before the small claims court. Small claims are useful for minor disputes with landlords, where they have not carried out repairs they should have or where they have but the claimant is looking for compensation for costs incurred in the meantime. Small claims are also useful where a claimant has received poor service or bought a faulty product, or for recouping money owed for any work done, for instance if the claimant is self-employed.
A claimant will usually represent themselves and will need strong evidence to back up their claim. Evidence can include letters or receipts, photos of damage caused, estimates or invoices for repairs carried out or other costs incurred, and perhaps a witness statement from a person who saw what happened.
It is advisable to ensure that it is worth making the claim in the first place; if it is going to cost a claimant as much to bring the claim as it is to win the claim, through court fees and any other costs, it might not be worth pursuing. If the company they are suing is having money problems, a claimant might not get their money back unless the company has other assets to claim against. Seek specialist debt recovery advice on the most appropriate course of action for your circumstances.
Companies can have certain responsibilities towards you in regards to keeping you safe whilst on their premises or using their products, and by ensuring they carry out their services in a reasonable way.
Professional negligence claims relate to circumstances when a company involved in providing professional services owes a duty to the customer to adhere to the relevant standards of competency in that field, for example, legal negligence, accountant’s negligence, or clinical negligence.
Whether you are suing for a personal injury that occurred as a result of the company’s negligent act or omission, or are suing for professional negligence in the provision of goods or services, there are three things that must be proven by the claimant: that the defendant (the company defending the action) had a duty of care towards the claimant, that they breached that duty as a result of their negligence, that the claimant suffered damage as a result of the breach of the duty of care, and that the damage was foreseeable. If all these can be evidenced, the claimant has a valid negligence claim and a good chance of success with it.
Importantly, how you sue a company for negligence will also depend on your relationship to the organisation; for instance where an employer has been negligent in regards to their statutory health and safety duties, this may be heard in an employment tribunal rather than the civil courts.
Consumer rights: retailers or service providers
Product liability is also classed as negligence. When you purchase goods or services from a company it creates a contract between you.
A company has various legal responsibilities towards you as a consumer. When you buy a product or use a service, you are entitled to expect it to be fit for purpose, to work as advertised, to be of satisfactory quality, to be provided with reasonable care and skill, and assume that it will not cause them any harm.
If a company breaches the standards required by law under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you may be able to take action to recover losses as a result of the breach.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, a product must be of satisfactory quality (of a standard that a reasonable person would expect), fit for purpose (where goods are intended for a particular purpose, they should be fit for that purpose and meet those requirements), and it should match any description, sample, or model it refers to or conforms to. The retailer will be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act if a product does not comply with these requirements as it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of their products before they are sent for manufacture.
The 2015 Act provides consumer remedies over and above those normally available under contract law: the short-term right (up to 30 days) to reject the goods and claim a refund, the right to a repair or replacement within a reasonable time and without cost or inconvenience to the consumer, or, failing these, the option of a price reduction or a final right to reject the goods and claim a refund.
If a company does not fulfil their obligations and uphold your statutory rights, you may be able to take action against them in the civil courts.
Personal injury claims
Personal injury claims can include slips, trips and falls, allergic reactions, road traffic accidents or any other accident in a public place.
If an employee is injured in the workplace, they may have a claim against their employer, if the injury was caused as a result of the employer’s negligence. Injury in the workplace not only involves physical injury, but also includes stress and psychological injury from harassment or bullying.
An employer has a legal duty to ensure that its employees have a safe and healthy work environment under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and must take all reasonably practicable steps to do so. This duty also extends to any non-employee visitors to the workplace, whether they are suppliers, customers, or clients. Workers should be provided with the correct Personal Protective Equipment; they should be given correct and up-to-date training on any equipment they use, and this machinery should be in good working order. Employers must also carry out regular risk assessments in the workplace and take complaints of harassment seriously and investigate them promptly. If an employer fails in its legal duty, and an employee is injured as a result, they are likely to have a valid claim against their employer, if they can prove that their injuries were caused by the employer’s negligence. Evidence to support a claim might include photos of the accident scene and of the injuries suffered, medical records, CCTV footage, witness statements and any accident logbook.
In all personal injury cases, it is important to assess how much a claim might be worth. The Judicial College Guidelines list payouts made in previous personal injury claims. These are dependent on the injuries suffered, the impact of any long-term damage on the claimant’s way of life, as well as their age and life expectancy, and these payouts range from around £5,000 for a shoulder injury to in the region of £400,000 for brain damage and tetraplegia from paralysis.
There are two types of damages awarded in personal injury cases. A claimant can sue for general damages for pain and suffering for physical and any mental injuries sustained, and special damages for quantifiable financial loss caused as a result of the accident and subsequent injuries, for example loss of earnings, or travel costs incurred going to hospital appointments. Evidence of financial loss will need to be shown, by way of receipts for expenses and proof of earnings and loss thereof.
Proving a breach of duty is often the hardest part of bringing a personal injury claim. It will often involve obtaining specialist advice from a medical expert or engineer for example, who can give their professional opinion as to whether the defendant’s actions caused the accident to occur.
Discrimination and other employment-related claims
Discrimination often happens in the workplace and can be based on age, gender, sexuality, disability, or race, and can take many forms, such as bullying or harassment, or being overlooked for a job or for a promotion. If an employee can prove that they have been discriminated against at work on any of these grounds, they may be able to bring a claim to an employment tribunal, which is a government-run body for workplace disputes.
Unfair dismissal claims can also be brought to an employment tribunal where an employee can prove that they were dismissed from their employment unfairly.
Wage disputes are also common in employment cases and can often be dealt with through the small claims court. If an employee believes they have not been paid what they should have, or have been paid the wrong amount, or not at all, it is essential an employee takes action as soon as possible to rectify the situation. As usual, it is advisable to explore other avenues first; these might involve speaking to an HR manager, negotiating with the employer or even mediation.
One of the most common property disputes is nuisance; such as a public house beside your property causing a noise nuisance at night. Noise however is not the only nuisance that can be actioned. Anything that meets the following criteria may potentially be considered a nuisance by the courts.
- There must be activity or a state of affairs
- That causes substantial or unreasonable interference with your use or enjoyment of the land.
Whether or not an activity or state of affairs constitutes a nuisance depends greatly on circumstances, therefore not all activities or states of affair will be considered unreasonable or substantial in relation to how it interferes with your use of the property. For instance, noise from building works may be a substantial interference in a quiet residential street, but not on a main road in a city.
Suing a company for property disputes also extends to anything held on the company’s land that has caused damage to your property, such as escaping animals. However, it must be proven that issue was as a result of a non-natural use of the land. This in effect means that any ordinary consequence of the use of the land will not apply.
You may also sue a company for a trespass to land, but it must be proven that the persons or items that encroached on the land did so due to the company’s encouragement or negligence in prevention of the trespass.
Civil courts also protect against defamatory statements made that damage the reputation of another. You may be able to sue a company for defamation if the circumstances meet the following criteria:
- A statement was made that intended to injure reputation;
- That referred to the claimant and is identifiable as such;
- Which was communicated to a third party
The law on defamation is highly complex and subject to a number of statutory and common law defences. Therefore you will need to obtain specialist guidance if you are looking for advice regarding how to sue a company for defamation.
Before bringing a claim against a company
Before you can bring a claim against a company, you will in most circumstances need to have explored and exhausted other forms of dispute resolution, such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. This is because taking somebody to court is generally seen as a measure of last resort.
For smaller financial claims for instance, a letter before action can be effective in resolving the matter without the need to go before the courts.
If legal action is the way forward, the claimant (ie the individual bringing the claim) must decide whether they will need legal representation or whether they will act as a litigant in person, ie represent themselves.
Claims made through the civil courts are allocated to a ‘track’ as follows:
- Small claims track for claims up to £10,000
- Fast track for claims between £10,000 and £25,000
- Multi-track for claims exceeding £25,000
Small claims cases, those that are for a maximum claim of £10,000, are claims where a claimant does not necessarily need a lawyer. A claimant will simply need to pay the costs of the court fee, the value of which depends on the size of the claim. These fees can range from £25 to lodge a claim online of up a value of £300, to £455 for a claim of £10,000 on a paper form. In any case, if a claimant wins their case, they may be able to claim these costs back from the other party.
In addition to costs, there are time limits within which a claimant can bring an action. Generally, this is six years from the incident in question, or three years from the date of an injury or diagnosis in the case of a personal injury claim.
Above all, a claim must have merit and a chance of success. A claimant must be able to establish the facts of the case, and they must be able to show they suffered some sort of damage at the hands of the company they are suing, and that the wrongdoing of the company caused the claimant’s damage. If a claimant can prove these three points, their claim has a good chance of succeeding. However, the benefits of winning a case should outweigh the disadvantages. If a claimant is going to incur more costs bringing a claim than they are likely to win if successful, it may not be worth pursuing it.
What is the legal process to sue a company?
All options of resolving the matter should be explored first before taking legal action. A company will often prefer to settle any dispute out of court and therefore an initial letter of complaint might suffice. If not, negotiation, mediation and arbitration should be considered. If they do not prove successful, legal action could be instigated.
The viability and merits of the claim should initially be assessed to see if it is worth pursuing. Liability should be assigned, the jurisdiction determined, and an estimate of the likely compensation awarded should be calculated. The court in which the claim should be brought should also be determined, whether the High Court or the County Court, as well as which procedure will apply, whether small claims, fast track or multi track.
Making a small claim
The small claims track was intended to be a quicker and easier process for smaller and less complex claims. The majority of small claims can be made using the online Money Claim Online (MCOL) service. You will not be able to claim online:
- If you are suing for an accident or injury
- If you are claiming against more than one party
- If you need help paying court fees
- It is for more than £10,000
- It is for an unspecified amount
If any of the above apply, you must apply by post using Form N1.Once your claim has been successfully filed, the judge will decide which track your claim is to be allocated to.
Each track has a specific process that needs to be followed in relation to submitting evidence and documentation among other things. There are precise deadlines that need to be met alongside compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules and any applicable pre-action protocol. As such it is crucial that you seek advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure your claim follows these procedures so it does not compromise your case.
While small claims should be relatively straightforward to process, fast track and multi-track invariably involve a significantly more complex claims process involving strict evidential and documentary requirements issued by the court. You may also be required to attend various pre-trial hearings and prepare statements and other witnesses ahead of a trial.
Litigation starts when a claim form is submitted to the court with the correct court fee. The claim form gives a brief summary of the claim and the remedy sought by the claimant. It will include, in the Particulars of Claim, the value of the claim, the facts of the case, the legal issues involved, and the type of remedy the claimant is seeking, whether monetary or an injunction, for example.
The documents will be served on the defendant by the court within the prescribed court timetable which must be strictly adhered to. The defendant will then need to file a defence in time if they decide to defend the claim. Default judgment will be awarded to the claimant if no defence is filed in time. This is a binding decision by the court as to the outcome of the case. It can only be appealed in exceptional circumstances.
If a defence is filed in time, and the case proceeds, the court might schedule a case management conference which is a hearing in which the court sets out directions for the parties as to how the case will be conducted until the final hearing. It will give instructions on what documents should be disclosed and what statements need to be filed and when. Again, these directions need to be closely followed.
Bundles of documents will need to be prepared for the hearing by both parties and a skeleton argument drafted by both outlining their respective cases. In more complex cases such as these, it is advisable to appoint legal representation to act on a claimant’s behalf.
Cases on the fast track cannot last for more than a day, but multi track cases are more complex and can last longer. The judge will deliver their judgment on completion of the hearing. Enforcement action may be necessary if the losing party does not follow the judgment given.
In relation to costs, the courts have discretion when making a ruling on who is liable for legal costs. However, as a general rule, the losing party would usually be ordered to pay the costs of the winning party. Costs should be proportionate however, and the conduct of the parties will be taken into account, as will any offers of settlement made up until the final hearing.
How much does it cost to sue a company?
The application fee varies greatly depending on the amount of money you intend to recover. Application fees start at £25 for online claims of up to £300; to fees of £10,000 for claims more than £200,000.
The amount you pay also depends on how you apply, with online application fees slightly less than paper applications.
Are there time limits to sue a company?
There are limitations on how long you have to issue court proceedings depending on the reason for your claim. For instance:
- Personal injury cases must be initiated within 3 years of the injury
- Defamation cases must be brought within 1 year of the statement
- Contractual disputes must be issued within 6 years
Therefore it is important to seek expert legal advice as soon as you think you might need to sue a company to make sure you do not miss the limitation periods.
Taking legal advice
Suing a company can become a complex, lengthy and expensive process and individuals can easily feel intimidated by the thought of taking legal action against a business. But taking early legal advice from an experienced legal adviser can help you understand if you have a valid claim and the routes open to you to seek legal redress.
How to sue a company FAQs
On what basis can you sue a company?
There are many reasons to sue a company, whether for negligence, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, or for money owed. Other options should be explored before resorting to litigation.
How much does it cost to sue a company in the UK?
That depends on whether or not the claimant appoints a legal representative, which is advisable in more complex cases. The court fees for submitting a claim also vary depending on the value of the claim and whether it is submitted online or in paper form.
Can I sue a company in the UK?
Yes. If the company is based in the UK, an individual can sue that company under the UK court jurisdiction.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.