View Full Version : Getting fictional lawsuit research right - m'aidez?

11-29-2011, 10:46 AM
Hello my lovely intelligent people :D *puppy dog eyes*

For a small literary society I'm part of, an (eventually) upcoming plot involves one of our (the Society's) enemies actually suing us instead of physically attacking us. (And she's a Sue - our society works on thrashing a load of Parody Sues we make up - so a Sue suing us is a joke we can't pass up.)

I Swear on all that's holy and holey that this is not referring to anything at all real or actually happening. Thought I might need that disclaimer.

Basically, I've tried to do research but a lot of what I find on how lawsuits work is confusing. I'm a stickler for research - my nickname in the Society is 'The Library's Pet Search Engine' - so I want to get this as right as possible as the situation allows. If it's okay, I'd like to share the ideas I have for this plot and if you know how to make it more realistic, please to make suggestions?

1: The plaintiff is an Empress!! Her name is Senka. We captured her nephew and before this happens she contacts the Society and demands his release, which we do. She's suing us for compensation/reparation, an expose of our 'business practices', to force us to 'stop trading' and to give up those who caught him (including my character) to stand trial for unlawful imprisonment etc. It's very frivolous. But would you sue for those things or am I barking up the wrong tree?

2: Our HQ is in an interdimensional space, so 'being served' in person would be difficult. Would they post the documents to us? (we have special pigeonholes for post) And/or would they post the documents in a public place for all to see? Would they do the latter anyway?

3: Senka would want the hearing(s) to take place in her empire, but as we're not under her jurisdiction (at least I don't think we are) would that be the done thing?

More as and when I/we think them up...

Thank you for your assistance in making a fun story ^^

11-29-2011, 12:49 PM
Okay, the first question is this: what is the jurisdiction you are using as the model for your fictional lawsuit? The US civil model? The US military model? The British model? Sharia Law? The Nuremburg Trials? The reason I ask is that they are not all the same. Some civil suits are decided by judges, others by panels of judges and others by juries. And these different styles and jurisdictions all have different ways of proceeding. Put another way, you probably have a general model for your judicial system in mind, and you'll need to refine it around the edges to fit your particular situation. I'm most familiar with the US system, myself.

If you want to see the inner details of a corporate-vs-corporate lawsuit in excruciating detail with all associated filings and an insane amount of commentary, check out www.groklaw.net. It's covering a lawsuit that is essentially over, but went on for the better part of a decade, and they break down every single filing, every single brief, every single hearing. If you want to know what happens behind closed doors in a civil suit, it's all there. In mind-numbing detail.

Now, on to your individual points:

1. Petty lawsuits happen all the time. There is a much more stringent standard for a "frivolous" lawsuit, which usually has repercussions against the one filing the suit (I'm no expert, but my understanding is that a frivolous lawsuit has to have been filed with no expectation of success, no actual harm being done, and for the purpose of using the legal system to harass somebody.) In this case, because there is a legitimate claim of actual harm, the lawsuit is not frivolous. That said, I personally would find a criminal prosecution more likely unless there is an organized legal entity behind it which she wants to expose (and it sorta sounds like that's the case.)

2. "Being Served" usually involves physically handing the serving papers to the individual(s) being served, primarily so there is no chance of being able to claim, "I was never notified!" In a fictional universe, I would imagine that there is some 100% reliable mechanism for delivering notices like that to extradimensional space. It could even be a sort of email, or you could use the cubbyholes. That one is really entirely up to you. As to whether it's a public or private matter, that depends on the judicial system you put in place. In the US, it's a matter of public record, but not generally publicized (in no small part because one of the parties may often legitimately claim confidentiality issues or irreparable harm if that party prevails but is still subject to bogus scrutiny.) But this part is entirely up to you.

3. Ah, yes. Jurisdiction. Of course she will want to hear it in her empire. If you are within her empire, she gets her way. If not, you can tell her to take a hike, but you'll be wanted as soon as you enter her empire, and going in to seize you from other jurisdictions might be construed as an act of war. So it depends on what the empress is after. She'll obviously file the suit within her own empire, and your group will likely ignore it. Her next move depends on her motive: if she's interested in making a big spectacle of things, you'll be tried in absentia, found guilty and handed a ridiculous penalty, all of which she'll try to enforce once you're within her empire. If she's interested in the sort of exposition that can only happen through a legitimate trial, however, she might suggest that the trial be held at a neutral location overseen by a neutral arbiter. In such a case, if you were to agree to that or were bound by international law, you'd have a regular trial.

11-29-2011, 05:22 PM
Oh wow, thanks!! That's certainly very thought-provoking for those three points. *rubs hands gleefully*

Jurisdiction: I'm thinking that a panel of judges is less likely to be bought off by Senka (or us). Potentially a jury could be too easily bought/threatened, but it could make for good plot. I'm in the UK but all I know of our actual procedures is that it's there, and apparently less likely to be used (or that may just be because I get more exposure to news from over the pond...). As to Senka's empire, she can try us in absentia all she wants, she can't affect us - so she'll have to go to a neutral space if she wants the exposure, or someone to actually punish. As our reputation is already down the toilet we may answer it if she pushes it out of just her empire alone.

11-29-2011, 07:46 PM
Over here, juries are very hard to buy off because nobody knows who the jury is until it's time for the trial itself. It's possible, it's just hard.

Honestly, for a trial to take place, there would have to be some agreed-upon higher legal authority with jurisdiction. After WWII, it was a panel put together by the Allies. Currently, there is the World Court, but it does not have universal jurisdiction. If your fictional universe has some sort of intergalactic UN or trade regulation body, you may want to go that route.