3 Elements of Standing to Sue

Pennsylvania courts are not open to anyone who has a grievance. To gain access to Pennsylvania courts for a lawsuit, you must first show that you have “standing to sue”. This is what gets you into court. You still have to win your case once you get there. There are three key elements of standing to sue, which were established via a combination of case law and the Constitution. These elements generally apply to both federal and state courts, but some states have additional doctrine that adjusts these requirements as well.

Standing: The Three Essential Elements

According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, you must have a “substantial, direct, and immediate interest” in the subject matter of the case to have standing. The concept of standing involves three distinct elements, each of which must be present to have standing to sue.   

Injury in Fact

Did you suffer a real injury? Courts compensate for many different types of injuries. In a personal injury lawsuit, however, you typically need to suffer some type of physical injury. If you can prove a physical injury, then you might also recover for emotional trauma such as pain and suffering or mental anguish.


The causation element of standing to sue requires you to credibly assert that the defendant contributed to your injury. Your claim must be logical. You cannot claim causation, for example, simply because a stranger refused to render first aid after your car accident. If you claim that the defendant caused the accident, however, the judge is likely to be inclined to let you prove your claim in court.

To defeat a challenge to your standing, you do not have to produce the weight of evidence that you would need to win a personal injury lawsuit. Remember: at this point all you are trying to do is get into court, not win your case. All you need to show is a reasonable likelihood that the defendant caused your injury.  In some cases, all you need is to make a claim which, if true, would establish causation. You can wait until you get to court to actually prove this claim.


An injury is considered redressible if there is something the court can do to adequately compensate you for the harm you suffered. Courts take a very broad view of redressability. Even losing the life of your child to a drunk driver is considered redressible, since a court can award you money if you win a wrongful death lawsuit.  

Cases involving other countries can often fail to meet this requirement, as oftentimes there is nothing a U.S. court can do to redress an injury caused by another country’s laws and regulations.

Substitute Standing

Certain types of people inherently lack standing to sue. Even so, the law allows other people to substitute for the person who lacks standing and file the lawsuit on behalf of that person.

  • Minors: If the victim is a minor, they have no standing to sue. Instead, their parent or guardian can sue on their behalf. A minor can sue once they reach the age of majority (18) all the way up to their 20th birthday.
  • Incapacitated persons: People who are mentally ill, in a coma, etc., have no standing to file a lawsuit on their own behalf. Instead, a guardian or someone with power of attorney can sue on their behalf.

Any damages a court awards will be placed in trust for the benefit of the minor or incapacitated person.

When in Doubt, Seek the Advice of a Personal Injury Attorney

Normally, a judge who dismisses a personal injury claim for lack of standing will dismiss it “without prejudice”. This leaves you the possibility of amending your claim and resubmitting it. An experienced personal injury lawyer can determine whether you have standing. If you do, they can help you amend your complaint to reflect this fact.

If you’ve been injured in Pennsylvania, please contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today:

Harrisburg Law Office
945 East Park Drive, Suite 103 Harrisburg, PA 17111
(717) 231-1640

York Law Office
2550 Kingston Road, Suite 210A York, PA 17401
(717) 995-8998

Wyomissing Law Office
833 N. Park Road, Suite 103, Room A Wyomissing, PA 19610
(717) 388-2325

Chambersburg Law Office
79 St. Paul Drive, Suite 1 Chambersburg, PA 17201
(717) 388-2378

Carlisle Law Office
354 Alexander Springs Road Carlisle, PA 17015
(717) 995-8732

Carbondale Law Office
30 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 101 Carbondale, PA 18407
(717) 995-8810

Lancaster Law Office
2173 Embassy Drive, Ste 123, Lancaster Pa 17603
(717) 616-2954

Lebanon Law Office
937 Willow Street, Suite D Lebanon, PA 17042-1140
(717) 995-8963