Deciding Who to Sue

Knowing whom to sue may not be as easy as you think. It is essential that you sue the right person or legal entity. You can lose your case if you sue the wrong person.  According to some District Court judges, suing the wrong person on behalf of a business is a common mistake for self-represented persons. Visit the District Court website for more information.  Here are some guidelines on suing the right party.

First, look at any receipt or agreement that you have with the other side. This is a good place to start when deciding who you should sue.

  • Naming an individual person – Make sure that you use the person’s full legal name. If you do not know what an initial stands for, see if you can find out. There is an amazing amount to information on the Internet plus other people in your community may know his/her full name. Sometimes the phone book may have the information. It is better to list the complete name to avoid any confusion. Make sure you rely on good information. Sometimes people have more than one name that they use. You should list these other names also. For example, Sara Jane Whitcomb a/k/a S.J. Whitcomb (a/k/a = Also Known As)
    *Tip on traffic accidents* - Sue the driver who caused your injury or property damage not the insurance company. District Court staff report that this is a common mistake.
  • Naming more than one person (including a married couple) – Again you should use the person’s full name (see above). List everyone that might be responsible for the harm you suffered. If you are not able to collect against one, you may be able to collect against the other. You would not want to file another lawsuit on the same incident. Remember that you must also serve each defendant with the court papers.

    If you are suing a married couple, name both people and note “husband and wife” after their names. Try to avoid naming the wife as Mrs. George Norton since this defines the person by relationship. If George Norton divorced his wife and remarried, you would have the wrong person!
  • Suing a business – There are three basic ways that a person can operate a business – a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation. The choice will control how the business is taxed. It will also determine who is liable (responsible) for the debts and bad acts of the business. In some cases, the business entity is considered a new legal “person.” You must sue the right person, whether it is a human person or an artificial legal “person.” See the chart below for guidance. You can use state and local information to research how the business is organized.

If you are unsure, consult a private attorney. Bring all of the research you have done. It will save the attorney time and save you money. Many attorneys will assist you without representing you in the entire case. This arrangement will give you expertise when you need it. You may still choose to handle the rest of the case by yourself.

Deciding Who to Sue in a Business
Type of Business Who You Need to Sue/Serve with Papers
Corporation The corporation is a legal “person.” Be sure that you use the full name, including the special abbreviations that indicate the status of the business such as Inc. or LLC. You should not sue the owners or managers. You can sue in Maryland, even if the headquarters of the corporation are in another state. There will be a “resident agent” on whom you should serve the court papers.  You can find this information on the SDAT Website by searching the name of the corporation or LLC.  Use the same process for a limited liability company.
Limited Liability Company  (LLC)
General Partnerships In a general partnership, all of the partners are liable for actions of the business. This is true even if you dealt with only one of the partners. You should name all of the partners in your lawsuit.  You must name all the partners to the business and you must name the business itself when filing the lawsuit.
For example – Anne Franklin and George Norton d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = "doing business as")
Limited Liability Partnerships In this type of partnership, certain partners are protected from lawsuits. (These are the “limited liability” partners. These are usually people who invested money in the business.) You should sue the business and name the general partners. You must name all the general partners to the business and you must name the business itself when filing the lawsuit.
For example – Anne Franklin d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = "doing business as")
Sole Proprietorship Name the person who owns the business, even if the person uses a fictitious name or trade name.  You must name all individuals who own the business and you must name the business itself when filing the lawsuit.
For example – Anne Franklin d/b/a Mill Street Pots and Things. (d/b/a = doing business as)


A special project of the Eastern Shore Regional Library under a Library Services Technology Act grant from the Division of Library Development Services/MD State Department of Education (author: Ayn H. Crawley)
Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2019.”