Understanding the 3 Elements of Standing to Sue

Standing is a way to ensure that a party bringing a lawsuit has an injury that a court can redress. Without a redressable injury, a lawsuit wastes the court’s and parties’ time and resources.

Legal standing also ensures that the parties involved in a lawsuit have the motivation to fight the case. If someone brings a lawsuit but has no legal injury, they might not fight to win the case. This could create a negative precedent that would interfere with cases from truly injured parties.

Here are the three elements of standing and how they can arise in an injury lawsuit.

Standing in Federal Courts

Standing is a requirement to sue in courts. If a party without standing files a lawsuit, the judge must dismiss the case. The court will not analyze the merits of the case.

For standing, a judge is concerned about whether the party filing the lawsuit meets three elements:


An injury-in-fact means the plaintiff suffered a “concrete, particularized” injury. This means that someone who “might be injured” would not have standing. Speculative injuries do not count. Instead, you need to show that you suffered an injury that you can identify and describe.

This “standing” does not mean that a court can only accept personal injury cases in which you suffered a physical injury. On the contrary, courts address mental and emotional injuries all the time. But it does mean that courts will not accept a case in which you only speculate that you will suffer a physical, mental, or emotional injury in the future due to a defendant.

An injury in fact also means that the plaintiff suffered an actual or imminent injury. The injury-in-fact element provides several limits on the power of the courts. It guarantees that courts only hear cases that seek redress for past or present actions.

For example, in a car accident case, the court must address whether the defendant drove negligently, and if so, what damages the defendant caused.

Without the injury-in-fact element, courts could take cases with speculative injuries that could happen in the future. Rather than judging the defendant’s past actions, courts would dictate how the defendant must act in the future. This would push judges into the role of legislators.

Example of Injury-in-Fact

Suppose that a road near your home has a dangerous intersection where drivers have hit pedestrians. The city council has refused several petitions to install stop signs or traffic lights at the intersection.

You file a lawsuit against the city claiming that you could get hit by a motorist at the intersection because you go jogging through that intersection every day. The court would dismiss the case for lack of standing because you had not suffered an injury in fact.

But suppose that you got hit at the intersection by a motorist. Your lawsuit could now survive a motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The court could judge the city’s culpability for leaving the intersection uncontrolled, despite a pattern of pedestrian accidents.


The second element of standing is causation. Again, this does not go to the merits of the case. To meet the second element, you must allege some causal connection between the defendant’s actions and your alleged injury.

If you do not allege an injury that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct, the judge can dismiss your case for lack of standing.

This element assures the court that it has the correct named parties in the lawsuit. If the wrong parties are included, you waste the court’s time and effort. If you include a party that did not cause your injuries, the court risks holding someone liable for another person’s bad deeds.

For example, suppose that you suffer an injury in a car accident. You file a lawsuit naming the at-fault driver, a repair shop that fixed your car right before the accident, and the car’s manufacturer.

If your lawsuit does not explain how the repair shop and manufacturer contributed to your injuries, the judge might dismiss your lawsuit against them.

On the other hand, suppose that your car’s airbag malfunctioned. You could allege that the repair shop performed electrical work that shorted out the airbag. This would keep your lawsuit against the repair shop alive.

Similarly, you could allege that the manufacturer’s faulty design of the car’s electrical system allowed the repair shop to short out the airbag system. This would keep the manufacturer in the lawsuit, as well.


You must show that action by the court will redress your injury. If the court’s power to redress your injury is merely speculative, the court will dismiss your case for lack of standing.

Most injury cases filed against the at-fault party will meet the redressability element. The power to order the defendant to compensate you for your economic and non-economic damages will help to make you whole, at least financially.

When a judge dismisses a case for failing the redressability element, it usually means that the lawsuit failed to meet another element, as well.

For example, if you have not suffered an injury, the court cannot redress your grievance. Similarly, if your lawsuit does not include the party who caused your injury, the court cannot take action that will compensate you for your injury.

Standing in California Courts

California has much looser rules surrounding standing than federal courts do. The California Supreme Court has held that its standing doctrine exists to avoid taking cases that it should not take. The standing doctrine in federal courts exists to keep federal courts from taking cases they cannot take.

This means that California courts can take cases that federal courts cannot take. This also means that any case that meets the three elements of the federal standing test will also satisfy any test California courts might apply.

Avoid Issues with Standing

Courts usually dismiss cases for standing when plaintiffs overreach. Including parties that have no connection to the case will result in dismissals. Similarly, asserting injuries that you cannot prove except through speculation will result in a dismissal.

To avoid a dismissal for lack of standing, you should hire an experienced litigator to handle your injury case. A litigator can focus any lawsuits on the parties and issues that will satisfy the three-element standing test.

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