What Are the 3 Elements of Standing to Sue?

What Are the 3 Elements of Standing to Sue?

When you are involved in a car crash, are personally injured, or are otherwise negatively affected by the actions of another person, you may wish to file a lawsuit. One of the first things your Los Angeles personal injury lawyer will go over, however, is whether your case has the three elements of standing needed to sue.

Today, we’ll break down what the three elements of standing to sue are and how you can determine whether your case has these elements so you can proceed with your lawsuit.

What is Standing to Sue?

Derived from the Latin term “locus standi”, standing to sue is a broad concept that means the person filing a lawsuit against another party must be the “proper” party to request adjudication or compensation.

In simpler terms, people can’t simply sue each other for no reason. You have to have standing to file a lawsuit for it to be valid in the eyes of the court. To determine whether a person has the standing to sue another individual or party, a lawsuit must contain three key elements.

What Are the 3 Elements of Standing to Sue?

When filing a lawsuit, you must prove that you have all three elements of standing to sue, not just one or two.

Injury in Fact

The first and arguably most important element is “injury in fact”. This means that the person filing a lawsuit has to have suffered an actual injury. Note that “injury” in this sense can include physical injuries, mental or emotional distress, and/or economic loss.

Additionally, an injury in fact can include harm caused to recreational, conservation, or aesthetic interests depending on the circumstances and topic of the lawsuit. The injury must have occurred already in the majority of cases – it usually can’t be something that may happen in the future.

Here are a few examples of Injury in Fact:

  • You were driving through town, and you started to enter an intersection when the light turned green. A car barreled through the intersection directly in your path. The driver of that vehicle had a red light. You saw the driver running the red light in your peripheral vision, just a second or two before you would have crashed. You slammed on the brakes and narrowly averted what would have been a horrific T—bone crash with your door being the point of impact. You were terrified by the experience but suffered no physical injuries. Your situation does not satisfy the element of “Injury in Fact.”
  • Same scenario, except you cannot react in time to prevent the collision. You suffer physical injuries from the collision. This situation does satisfy the element of “Injury in Fact.”
  • The original scenario, except you manage to avoid the crash. The extreme stress of the near miss causes you to have a heart attack. The heart attack is your physical injury, which satisfies the requirement of an “Injury in Fact.”

Sometimes, the harm is not to a person, but to your property. For example, you discover that a nearby factory has dumped toxic chemicals on your land. Damage to the environment can qualify as an Injury in Fact.


The next element of standing to sue is “causation”. This means that the injury a lawsuit revolves around must have been caused by the defending party. In other words, if you are in a car accident, you cannot sue the at-fault driver’s sibling to acquire compensation for your injuries or property damage. 

The at-fault driver might not have insurance or sufficient personal assets to pay your losses, and they might have a wealthy relative. Nonetheless, merely being related by blood or marriage does not make the wealthy person responsible for the actions of their relatives.

For a lawsuit to be successful, the plaintiff must prove a connection between the conduct of the defendant and the injury(s) sustained. Let’s say that you were in a multi-vehicle car accident. You find out that one of the drivers got cited for drunk driving, but they were not the party who caused the collision. They were negligent, but their negligence did not cause the crash. You only have standing to sue the party who caused the accident through negligence.

Causation is only one element you would have to prove to hold the defendant liable for your injuries and losses. Even if your lawsuit survives a challenge based on standing to sue, your case could get dismissed if you cannot prove all four of these things:

  • The defendant owed you a legal duty of care. For example, everyone who drives on California roads must obey our state’s traffic laws.
  • The defendant breached their duty of care. When a person fails to act in a manner that measures up to the legal standard, they are negligent. Let’s say that the defendant was speeding. Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for the conditions is negligence.
  • The negligence must be the thing that caused the accident that harmed you. If the driver lost control of their car because of excessive speed and skidded into your vehicle as a result, their careless behavior caused the crash.
  • You must have quantifiable losses. Physical injuries satisfy this requirement of liability. 

As you can see, the elements of standing to sue are intertwined with the elements of liability. You will have to prove both standing to sue and the defendant’s liability to win your personal injury lawsuit.


Lastly, your lawsuit must have “redressability” for you to have the standing to sue. Redressability means that the court will be able to do something to make up for or correct the injury(s) of the plaintiff. This can be financial compensation, court orders that dictate the behavior of the defendant in the future, and so on.

The court does not want to spend its time and resources on a case for which there is nothing it can do. For example, if someone breaks a law that does not provide consequences for violations, the court will likely say that the plaintiff has no standing to sue because of the lack of redressability.

How to Tell if You Have Standing to Sue

No matter who you want to sue or the circumstances of your case, you should contact a California personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Legal counsel will be able to tell you whether you have standing to sue one party or another based on the circumstances of your case, the details of your injury(s), and more. Contact us today for more information.

About the Author

Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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