An Often-Omitted Topic in FI: Can You Lose It All if You Get Sued?
I hope I didn’t stir uneasiness in anyone with that post title. Has anyone else ever thought about this when they wake up? I mean you gotta admit, it’s related to the “More money, more problems” saying. It’s just something I’ve thought about after watching some investigative journalism about the increase in class-action lawsuits and “frivolous litigation”.
While it’s unlikely for an individual just going about their lives to be sued for all they are worth, there are some things that increase your vulnerability, such as owning property. One of my relatives always said, the more you make, the more people will come after you with their palms open. He even told me when he was on vacation once, he saw a woman purposely stumble in front of a Range Rover, saying it was because she was hoping to get some money out of them. I even had a neighbor who said another neighbor threatened to sue her because her dog’s bark was giving her headaches! Back to my relative with the wise words, he was the one who introduced the concept of stealth wealth to me, and how it’s wise to not show off one’s wealth because people judge you for it and send “ill wishes” your way.
What I had not even thought about was the prospect of someone hiring some big-shot lawyer, threatening you with a lawsuit, and taking you to the cleaners for all you’re worth. They dangle the daunting process of court proceedings and then offer to “settle” for an often shameless and absurd dollar amount. It wasn’t until recently that I learned about “mental anguish” damages, I mean talk about a potentially ambiguous claim!
Liability can often be for things that are serious, from you plowing through a crosswalk while texting and driving, to your dog biting a child in the park.
However, I’ve seen it grow more and more ludicrous over the years. We’ve all seen the Hot Coffee documentary and surely have some feelings about it, and I was happy to be proved wrong in thinking that poor woman was just trying to get rich. In some cases though, someone can successfully sue you for slipping on your deck, for hurting themselves on your recliner, or even for posting a picture of them on social media.
With the advent of online reviews, I have even seen people get sued, often aggressively, by people/companies with deep pockets, for writing a negative review online. So much for free speech! The wording has to be very careful, as the companies can sue for libel or false accusations, damage to reputation, etc. People get pretty heated when they feel like they get wronged, and often let their emotions get the best of them as they fervently write a review as soon as they are at the peak of their emotions. Cases like this guy in Texas give me chills on how everything you work for can be taken from you when you just thought you were venting online.
And don’t even start with copyright lawsuits. With more people using social media and posting pictures, videos, songs, and memes, it’s become more prevalent to see copyright lawsuits for posting an image you don’t have ownership rights over or music you don’t have licensing rights over. Take a look at these various things you can get sued for, even taking a video in a public place!
So, how to protect yourself from getting sued? Easy, just get rid of your smartphone, don’t interact with anyone, and walk/take public transit everywhere. Done! Thanks for reading!
Seriously though, there are things you can do. First and foremost, just pause and make good judgment when making decisions. How is this going to come across? Will others feel the same way about this? Am I being mindful and intentional when driving or having people over? If you have to question an action, such as writing a bad review or posting a video, think about the risks involved and if it’s worth it.
Further, you can protect yourself and your assets by brushing up on your insurance. Whether you have homeowners or renters insurance, you can obtain liability insurance to cover at least as much as your net worth on those policies. You can also obtain Umbrella or General Liability coverage. As your net worth grows, you’ll see wealthy people use complex trusts and LLCs to acquire property, operate businesses, and structure income. Liability is a big part of this, as they want to protect what they have.
If you have a business, that opens a whole other folder of insurance needs, because often there are people working for you, customer information in the database, frequent exchanges of personal and financial information, and more. Make sure you look into creating an entity for your business such as an LLC or Corporation.
Lastly, make sure you READ contracts that you sign, whether for an insurance policy or for a business arrangement. You want to make sure that when you think you are covered for something that you actually are, and you’re not given a nasty surprise when you realize your claim is one of the exclusions in your policy.