A lawsuit is one way you can make someone compensate you for damage they caused.

  If you have a legitimate dispute that cannot be solved in another way, then filing a lawsuit is the only way to start.  What does it take to file a lawsuit?  It takes time, attention to detail, and a lot of preparation.

  1. First, understand the time commitment involved in starting a lawsuit.

An average Law & Order episode lasts approximately 60 minutes (45 minutes once you cut out the commercials).  In that time, the detectives arrive at the crime scene, arrest the suspect, and the District Attorney puts the suspect on trial.  While most criminal cases move faster than civil litigation lawsuits, Law & Order is still far from reality.

A non-cable-television-show lawsuit, from filing with the court to final appeal, can last years.  Right off the bat, after a lawsuit has been filed with the court, the other party already has approximately one month to respond.  Any delay in response, or hinderance in either party’s ability to find witnesses or documents, or delay in the court’s schedule can extend the life of a lawsuit.

Fortunately, not every lawsuit will take multiple years out of someone’s life.  Some factors that will weigh into how long it may take to resolve your lawsuit include:

  • The other side’s willingness to settle early on.
  • The ability to be successful in summary judgment.
  • The ability to have an automatic scheduling order, or to have the other side agree to a scheduling order to keep the case moving.
  • The availability of filing an expedited civil action. This normally puts a cap (or limit) on the amount of monetary damages you can claim the other side owes, but it makes the case move much faster than a typical lawsuit.

There are any number of factors that will determine how long your lawsuit will take to resolve.  Going into a lawsuit with the understanding that it may take more time than you anticipated, will help you navigate some of the stress and frustration that can accompany litigation.

  1. Second, make sure you have all necessary information and forms to file a lawsuit.

Each jurisdiction refers to the documents required to file a lawsuit in a different way.  Typically, you will need to have a complaint or petition, along with a summons.  The complaint or petition must set out, at a minimum:

  • The names of the parties involved. You will be listed as the Plaintiff, and the person(s) you are suing will be named as the Defendant(s).
  • An introduction that states who the parties are and how they are related to the cause of action.
  • A brief explanation of why the court you are filing with has the authority to hear the case and resolve the issues. For example, the underlying action or inaction occurred in that court’s geographical jurisdiction, or a contract selects which court can hear a controversy that comes from that contract.
  • A statement of facts, in chronological order, and the actions or inactions of the Defendant that give rise to your injury.
  • All legal claims or causes of action, with reference to legal authority.
  • Your signature and date. Some jurisdictions require a verified complaint or verified petition, which means you must sign in front of a notary public.
  • A certificate of service. This document states that you sent the complaint to the Defendant, either by U.S. mail or by a process server (depending on your jurisdiction).

A summons, or similar document, must also be filed with the complaint.  The summons serves as the official notice to the Defendant that he or she is being sued, and is required to answer your complaint or petition.

  1. Third, file your lawsuit with the court.

After the complaint and summons are ready, the documents must be filed with the court that has jurisdiction to hear your case.  This is done by going to the Clerk of Court for the court with whom you are filing the lawsuit.  You can also contact the Clerk of Court to ask what the proper procedure is to file the lawsuit. 

Generally, you will need to bring the original complaint and summons, along with copies of both, to the Clerk of Court for filing.  The Clerk will stamp the documents as being filed, return the copies to you, and keep the original for the court.  Most courts also require you to pay a filing fee at the time you file the lawsuit.  The amount of the fee will vary, and in some cases, you may be eligible to apply for a waiver of the fee.

  1. Finally, serve the Defendant.

Once you have the court-stamped documents, you are ready to serve the Defendant.  Depending on your jurisdiction, service can be completed by U.S. mail or by personal service.  Service by U.S. mail typically requires you to send the documents with a “return receipt requested,” or by certified mail, so you can show the court that the documents were delivered.  Personal service is completed by a person over the age of 18.  After personally serving the Defendant, that person fills out an affidavit, or statement, that sets out when, where, and how service was completed.  The most common form of personal service is by use of a process server.

The time, attention to detail, and amount of preparation that you are willing to put into your lawsuit will directly affect the potential success of your case.  If your lawsuit has complex legal issues, or multiple issues arising from related claims, you should seek the assistance of an attorney with experience in the area of law specific to your lawsuit.  A probate attorney may not be the best selection for a car accident lawsuit, nor would a worker’s compensation attorney be the best selection for a business contract dispute.  Finding the right attorney, combined with your time, attention to detail, and amount of preparation, could be the right formula for a successful lawsuit.

For additional information regarding general litigation matters, contact the Goosmann Law Firm at info@goosmannlaw.com, call us at 855-843-4531, or visit our Trial Law Review Blog!

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