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I am a freelance graphic designer working part time

We didn’t have a signed contract for any work (my mistake- I only work through friends and family referrals part time).

I was making a new website for him in a sub domain from a template under his current site (still fully up and running) for a new business he is trying to launch, as well as a flyer for another one of his businesses. The flyer was sent to him complete and the website is complete except for a few things that I’ve repeatedly explained are solely up to him to do (testing and going over it etc) it is just not “live” yet

I told him I did not want to do any work for him anymore due to his volitile nature and unprofessionalism, as well a bullying nature - and because he has a tendency to fly off the handle and blame me for his poor business decisions.

I have told him I’m not charging him for anything I have done in order to remove myself from this toxic working situation, including the remaining balance left on the website and the entire flyer design.

He now is threatening to sue me for potential earnings lost this upcoming year on his end because I have chosen to not work with him anymore. Is this possible? He doesn’t get that I, as a freelance designer, am not being paid to run his business nor am responsible for his companies future sales. I have a long email paper trail of all the issues and believe he is just angry. But he's psychotic. He’s threatening to go to a lawyer and sue me for the money he could have made from my work (even though I’ve handed it all over to him).

The amount I’m being paid from him is not worth the headache and constant confusion. Please let me know your thoughts

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Literally, anyone can sue anyone for anything in civil court. But: in order to win, the plaintiff must convince the jury (or judge) that they have suffered damages. The loss of "potential profits" is barely rational. In personal injury or wrongful death cases (among others), future potential earnings can be awarded. But again, he can't really show a loss or damages for what you won't be doing for him based on what you have done for him, and mostly for free, it sounds like.

It's good that you have a paper trail and evidence that you may need. Keep track of everything. You do have a contract: it sounds like it is mostly verbal, with details in emails. It's a binding contract, but if you have finished 99% of the work, few would say you are breaching the contract. There is no implied contract for future work based on the contact you have now.

If he files a lawsuit as pro se (representing himself), and the lawsuit isn't immediately tossed out, you will need to get a lawyer to fight it. If that happens, Google for free/low cost legal aid organizations in your area. Many NGOs offer help with civil (non-criminal) cases. Or find a lawyer who gives free first consultations; you may find one would who love to do a "smack down" on the guy.

If he can't file as pro se, he must find a lawyer who believes they can win. He may be able to find a lawyer as psychotic as he, but I doubt it; there would be much at stake for the lawyer's reputation and possible disciplinary action by the court for filing frivolous lawsuits.

In the two scenarios above, it is possible for you to not hire a lawyer or consult with one and answer the lawsuit yourself, file a motion for dismissal, etc.; there are lots of resources on the web, but doing your own filings pro se is not for the faint of heart.

He could file in small claims court instead of district court, but I think you would have the advantage because small claims courts are informal; you will be able to argue your case in plain English without a lawyer, and he will likely make a fool of himself. But, he may not even be able to file in small claims if he can't show real damages, i.e. a monetary sum to enter when he files. If he doesn't correctly file in small claims, his lawsuit is tossed out.

You could try and head off any legal actions on his part by writing a firm letter explaining that he doesn't have a case, and mentioning that you have legal representation, but get help doing that, re: the legal aid methods mentioned above.

And, as pointed out in the comments, you could take the offensive and sue him in small claims for the money he owes you for the work completed. Check with your county court (or the county he is in); sometimes you can or need to file suit in the county the defendant lives in. The first step in small claims is usually a demand letter stating what he owes with a deadline for payment; that might be an effective way to shut him up.

  • Good answer (+1). I will only add that a lawyer need not be psychotic to represent that problematic potential plaintiff. Some small-town lawyers really don't have much going on in their career and lend themselves to blatantly frivolous litigation as long as they deem it profitable in some way. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 23 at 20:17
  • Obviously with this threat your offer of writing off his debt should be gone. Send him the bill, and if doesn't pay, it's the small claims court. – gnasher729 Jan 23 at 22:49
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    @IñakiViggers True, if there might be some money in it, I can see some bottom feeders going for it, or at least to have something do to. It's happened many times. – BlueDogRanch Jan 24 at 0:51
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    @gnasher729 That's a good point; the OP could go on somewhat of an offensive against the guy. – BlueDogRanch Jan 24 at 0:52
  • I agree that loss of profits is a long bow for damages. A more realistic claim would be any increase in the cost between what the OP was charging and what any new developer charged. – Dale M Jan 24 at 0:59
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Potential earnings cannot be recovered in law suits. One can only recover damages.

There was a famous case where someone accidentally damaged the electricity cable to a iron wielding company during construction work. The whole factory shut down for several hours. The factory sued for damages. The judge ruled that: Cost of wasted iron material, check. If the wielding process is interrupted the material is wasted. Cost of repairing machines, check. Machines where stopped at places they should not be. Potential business revenue during the shut down, no. The court would not consider the possibility of how would the business have conducted had some event in the past been different.

Your client is merely using the threat of a lawsuit in an attempt to have you done certain things. It sounds like you would rather forget the money than face the headache of a lawsuit. I doubt he can bring one, since he has to establish he has suffered damages; but if he does and you end up having a lawsuit anyway, you can use the opportunity to recover the service fee he owns you. The circumstances are in your favor.

I forgot what the name of the case was. If someone can point it out in the comments (or edit in) that would be great.

  • I do not question there are decisions denying relief for "potential business revenue", but generally speaking future damages are not automatically precluded. For instance, Missouri Pac. R. Co. v. Kimbrell, 160 Tex. 542, 334 S.W.2d 283, 286-87 (1960) (noting that a factfinder may discount future damages to a present value without the introduction of evidence on that subject). That being said, I agree with everyone in that here the problem-customer's allegation is devoid of merit. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 24 at 11:32

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