Standing is the legal doctrine that addresses the issue of who can bring a given lawsuit. 

By way of extreme example, standing prevents John Doe, living in California, from suing over a car accident that happened in New York involving people he has never met.  In a situation like that, it is clear that John Doe does not have any right to bring that lawsuit; he has no stake in it and he was not injured in any way (physically or monetarily) as a result of what happened in New York.

“As a general rule, standing involves a real interest in the cause of action, meaning some legal or equitable right, title, or interest in the subject matter of the controversy.”[1]  Often, this is determined by looking at whether the person bringing the suit (the “plaintiff”) has some sort of concrete injury as a result of the action or inaction of the defendant.

Before the plaintiff can proceed with the lawsuit, the plaintiff will have to show that he/she have been injured in some way or that he/she will inevitably be injured if the court does not act to prevent an imminent harm.  The injury of the plaintiff does not have to be a physical injury; it can be a monetary injury or it could be that the plaintiff’s legal interest is affected.  However, the injury cannot be abstract or hypothetical. 

In most cases this is pretty straight forward.  However, there are a couple of instances when standing requires a second look.  For example, standing generally prevents a generic taxpayer from being able to sue the government for spending tax money inappropriately.  In such a case, the taxpayer would have to show how he/she personally (not just “taxpayers” or citizens in general) were specifically harmed from the action(s) taken by the government.  That harm or injury must be unique to that individual or different than the harm to other taxpayers.

Another important type of case where standing could be overlooked is a wrongful death case.  In a wrongful death case, it is clear that the deceased person has standing as he was injured (to the point of death).  But, who can bring the lawsuit once he is deceased?  In most situations, the “estate” of the deceased individual, through the legally appointed personal representative of the estate, is the one that must bring the wrongful death lawsuit.  The surviving families may be able to bring their own cause of action, related to their own loss of companionship and support of the deceased individual.  But, the actual lawsuit for the wrongful death must be brought by the estate.  While it may seem like a technical distinction, especially if the personal representative is the widow, it can have an impact on how the money obtained from the lawsuit is distributed.  Any money obtained for the wrongful death, since it belongs to the “estate,” would be distributed through the estate according to the deceased individual’s estate plan.

If you feel that you have been wronged by someone, contact the experienced trial attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, in our Omaha, Nebraska, Sioux City, Iowa, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, offices.  We can help you navigate this and other legal concerns to ensure that the right person is bringing the right lawsuit against the appropriate wrongdoer. For more content like this blog, visit our Trial Law Review today!

[1] City of Springfield v. City of Papillion, 294 Neb. 604, 607, 883 N.W.2d 647, 649 (Neb. 2016).


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