First of all, as the plaintiff or claimant, you must submit what is known as a complaint, which is a set of papers that contain your claim against the individual or party being sued, now known as the defendant.
Essentially, the complaint tells the story of why you are filing a lawsuit against that party - if you’re representing yourself in a civil case, you can write it yourself or hire an attorney to assist you in the drafting process. Then you’re ready to go!
You must pay a filing fee to the court, which pays for the paperwork required to send a summons to whoever you are claiming against, which is personally delivered to them by a process server. Thus explains the phrase, “You’ve been served!”
Once the defendant has received your complaint, a response must be filed in a specific and usually quite short window of time. This will usually be defending themselves against your claim or attacking the complaint generally.
How does a civil lawsuit work?
First things first, a plaintiff (the injured party) heads down to the courthouse, paying a filing fee in order to submit a complaint against the defendant, aka the party or individual, they believe is at fault and responsible for damage or distress.
Once this has been filed, the defendant must respond, either with a motion for “discovery” or a request to settle. During a discovery, as the name suggests, participants must offer information about the case to prepare for a trial.
It’s often the case that a judge will try to encourage both parties to settle their issues outside of court, because of the delay in resolution and to save the cost of establishing and conducting a case.
Through mediation or other forms of resolving the plaintiff’s complaint, it is hoped that a resolution will be found, which usually takes the form of a “settlement” which usually involves the injured party receiving financial remuneration for any damages.
If there is no settlement, then the trial is scheduled - it is possible to request a jury trial, but if both parties waive the right to this, then the case will go before a judge without the presence of a jury being necessary. This is often much faster!
With or without a jury, the judge will decide what evidence shall be presented before the court. Witnesses are held outside the courtroom during these initial proceedings, so they can present their testimonies without bias from other witnesses, for instance.
The designated court reporter is there to record and transcribe the trial proceedings, whilst their deputy clerk of court also takes a note of every person who is testifying, as well as any photos, documents, or items entered into court as evidence.
It is possible for the defendant’s lawyer to object to a question presented to the witness if it is not considered part of their personal knowledge, isn’t relevant to the case at hand, or is biased and presented in a prejudiced way.
The judge will then either allow or overrule that objection - if they sustain the attorney’s objection, then the witness will not answer that question and the next one must be asked, though the court reporter will make a note of the objection for later.
Once all evidence has been presented, both sides will offer up their closing arguments. If a jury has been present, the judge demonstrates how US law is relevant to the case, as well as explaining what it is they must decide.
A jury will both determine whether the defendant is responsible or not, then decide what damages (if any) will be paid; they should be convinced by “preponderance of the evidence” that the plaintiff’s case is valid and that the defendant is responsible.
Without a jury, it’s up to the judge to decide what happens, which is known as a bench trial. Of course, it could be ordered that no damages be paid and nothing happens - it depends on the individual lawsuit!
How is a civil suit filed?
Any individual or party that wants to file a civil lawsuit must go down to the court and pay a filing fee to submit their complaint; if they cannot afford said fee, they may be able to request a waiving of it in forma pauperis, if the judge grants this request.
By succinctly describing the physical or emotional damages and/or injury sustained by the filer, a complaint works to demonstrate how the defendant being sued is responsible, asking the court to deal with the case on behalf of the individual.
Depending on what has happened, the complaint may request money as compensation for the distress caused or ask that the court order the behavior of the defendant which is causing their turmoil be ceased immediately.
Is suing someone considered a civil case?
Yes! Putting it as simply as possible, bringing a lawsuit against an individual involves filing a complaint as a plaintiff, explaining what you believe they are responsible for and the outcome you would like to see as a result.
This is known as a civil lawsuit, as opposed to a criminal lawsuit, which involves an individual being charged with committing a crime by the police and then brought to court before a judge and jury.
What are the grounds for a civil lawsuit?
In short, the plaintiff - the party that is submitting a complaint against someone (aka filing a civil lawsuit) - must believe that they have incurred either financial loss, physical injury or emotional damages as a result of the defendant’s actions.
You must be personally and directly affected by the complaint that you are making, and you should also be able to prove beyond doubt that the defendant is responsible for the damages that you have sustained as a result.
A civil lawsuit can be initiated by anybody - this can be a person or a business as represented by an individual, claiming that they have been injured by some sort of physical, emotional or financial harm from the defendant, aka the party being sued.
It’s worth knowing that, compared to a criminal case, the “burden of proof,” or the amount by which a judge or jury needs to be sure that the evidence meets the claim, is a lot lower during a civil lawsuit.
This basically means that it’s usually likely that the plaintiff who is launching the lawsuit is telling the truth, so they only have to prove their claim “by a preponderance of the evidence,” as opposed to the usual and harsher, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Common civil lawsuits include personal injury, such as in a car accident or slip and fall incident; instances of medical malpractice; as a result of a defective product, or in response to an intentional act from another person.
What are the pleadings in a civil lawsuit?
In a civil lawsuit, the pleadings are the very first part of the case and take four stages. Generally, they involve formal documents being filed with the court, expressing either party’s position. Before a trial, for instance, pleadings are:
The Complaint: An initial pleading, and probably the most important, as it outline’s the plaintiff’s story of what has happened, explaining what they believe has been done to them by the defendant, as well as what they would like to happen in response
The Answer: A statement of response from the defendant - typically this offers an excuse, a response or an attack on the complaint
Replies: If any new accusations are brought to light at any point, a reply must be issued; this can be performed by any of the parties in the case
Counterclaim: Should they wish to, the defendant can at any point file what is known as a counterclaim, essentially implying that the plaintiff has somehow damaged them, actually, and should therefore also be paying out damages.
This can be sent as part of the official answer, or as a separate filing altogether - a plaintiff will be given the opportunity to reply to this.
All of the above information is taken from the American Bar Association and relevant specifically to civil lawsuits taking place in the United States.
What is the first step in a civil case?
Someone has to start it! The initial part of a civil lawsuit involves the injured party, known as the plaintiff, filing their complaint down at the courthouse - and they usually have to pay a filing fee for the privilege of doing so.
A complaint is a series of documents that demonstrates what has happened from their perspective, illustrating why the party or individual they are suing is responsible for either physical, emotional, or financial trauma they have experienced.
Once this has been submitted, the plaintiff must wait for the defendant to reply to their complaint, either with an attack on their argument or by launching their own countersuit to seek damages themselves in return.
You might be surprised to find out that many civil cases don’t actually make it to court in front of a judge. Most plaintiffs and defendants will usually be able to come to a conclusion outside of court, often settling with the payment of financial damages.
This is the next step in a civil case, known as mediation, and is often a pretty successful resolution tactic. It’s a good thing if you can settle out of court - it saves you and the state a whole lot of money!
However, if the two parties cannot come to an agreement on a result, a trial date will then be scheduled. Should both agree to waive their right to a jury, then they’ll be able to get their case seen just in front of a judge, which is usually a lot quicker.