Legal Topics


How to File a Civil Lawsuit

While only the legal authorities can pursue a criminal case against someone, virtually anyone can file a civil lawsuit against another person or an organization if they feel they've been mistreated, abused, or victimized by negligence.

A person can have a suit brought against them because of a legal concert known as tort. A tort is an act or condition that results in severe harm or loss to another party. Some torts are intentional, like trespassing or assault and battery. Other torts are unintentional, like injuring someone in a vehicle accident when you're weren't following traffic rules or damage resulting from a faulty product when the manufacturer refuses to accept its breakdown.

The process of filing a civil lawsuit has 3 major steps:

Determining Your Suit: It's important to get as much research done at this stage to see where your injury or loss falls under state law and which type of suit you're going to bring (for example, a breach of contract suit or a slander suit). You can also visit a self-help center associated with a local court and get aid in drafting your civil complaint.

Draft a Pleading: Once you know the legal issue under which you can sue, the next step is to write up your formal complaint, which is known in legal circles as a "pleading." Your complaint should have your name, address, and contact information. You must also designate under which jurisdiction you want your claim handled (i.e., local or state courts), who is the defendant in your suit, the cause of action (that is, the history and nature of your case), and what remedies or compensation you desire. A signature is required for full acceptance.

Filing Your Complaint: A lawsuit can either be filed by mail or brought in person to the court clerk. However, it is ideal to bring the complaint in person to the clerk and avoid any delivery issues. As the plaintiff, you should also have a summons ready, which the clerk can dispatch to the defendant and give notice that they are due in court for your case. This step is known as service of process and is usually delivered to the defendant in the care of a legal courier known as a process server. Once you've filed and your complaint has been served, your civil case can begin.

For assistance and more information on civil lawsuits and their preparation, visit the Legal Aid Society or consult with your state's local judiciary.

Image by Missouri News Horizon on Flickr

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