Sometimes it isn't enough to simply say "see you in court." If you're suing a doctor, for example, you'll likely have to first send him or her a written Notice of Intent to File Suit to specify what unlawful behavior you are suing about and to identify your damages.
Notice of Intent to Sue
A letter that sets out a legal issue you have with someone can be called a demand letter or a notice of intent to file suit. Generally, you write this type of letter once negotiations to find a simple solution to the problem have failed. It tells the other party that you are giving up trying to settle the case and will let the court decide instead.
Many courts, including some small claims courts, require you to make a formal demand for payment before you can sue. You need only to set out the facts of the dispute and the damages you suffered. You don't even have to threaten a court suit for it to qualify as a notice of intent to file lawsuit.
California: Notice of Intent to File Lawsuit
The term, "Notice of Intent to File Lawsuit," can have a more formal meaning – some state laws require you to send this notice before heading to court in some circumstances. For example, California requires that you officially serve this notice of intent at least 90 days before you bring a lawsuit against a doctor or a hospital. The state legislature wrote this law to prevent lawyers from using "surprise suit" tactics that force medical providers to defend against lawsuits without adequate time to prepare.
The law, as set out in California Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 364, doesn't tell you many details about how to prepare the Notice of Intent to File Lawsuit. All that the law requires is for the notice to set out the facts of the case, the doctor's behavior you are complaining about and what injuries you claim to have suffered. In California, this notice of intent to sue does not extend the legal time period to file the lawsuit.
For example, you must file a medical malpractice suit in California within a year from the date you should have discovered the injury or within three years from the actual date of the injury. You must file the Notice of Intent to File Lawsuit before the statute of limitation tolls, and filing the notice does not grant you more time.
Michigan: Notice of Intent to Sue
Many states require you to serve a notice of intent to sue before bringing a medical malpractice case. The rules differ among states, so check with your local court or an attorney. Michigan, for example, is a state where you must file a notice of intent to sue if you want to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. You have to give the notice to every person or entity you might sue at least 182 days before you file the lawsuit with the court.
Other Types of Cases
Notices of intention to file suit are required in various types of lawsuits, not just medical malpractice suits. Each state has its own laws about the types of cases that require these notices.
Some federal cases also require notices of intent to sue. For example, under federal rules, citizens are allowed to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if it fails to perform its responsibilities. These provisions usually require you to provide the EPA with notice of intent to sue before filing the lawsuit.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.