What is a Civil Lawsuit?

Whether you are filing a lawsuit against someone, being sued, or appearing as a witness, being part of the legal process can be unpleasant and quite frustrating. There may also be some delays that can be frustrating. A civil lawsuit begins by one party filing a complaint against another with the court. In the “complaint” document, the plaintiff describes what he or she wants in monetary or other terms that could provide relief and why he or she feels s/he should get that kind of relief. The document is also supposed to identify the defendant or the party the complaint is being filed against. 

The plaintiff is expected to pay the relevant filing fee to the court, which in turn issues a “summons” to notify the defendant of the lawsuit filed against him or her. The details of the summons include the name of the court handling the case, the identity of the parties to the case, and the identity of the plaintiff’s attorney (if any). The complaint and summons are served to the defendant in person and a process server is often in charge of this process. A civil lawsuit, therefore, is a legal process through which a plaintiff seeks to hold the defendant liable for some harm or wrongful act. A successful lawsuit results in the plaintiff being awarded some compensation for the wrongful act or harm against them.

When and How to File a Civil Lawsuit

Civil lawsuits can be filed against businesses and similar entities. A contract dispute is an example of wrongful acts that can be brought against businesses. Other examples include injuries sustained in an accident, a residential eviction following a broken lease, or other disputes and forms of harm. Whereas a criminal case seeks to punish the offender for a crime committed, a civil case aims to compensate the plaintiff in damages (usually monetary terms) and the defendant is expected to pay if the plaintiff’s lawsuit is successful.

To commence a civil lawsuit, you can file a complaint with your federal court and serve the defendant with a copy of the same. The complaint should have the plaintiff’s injury or damages, including how the harm was caused and the jurisdiction of the court, which is also asked to order relief. The relief may be in the form of monetary compensation for the damages caused or a restraining order compelling the defendant to stop acting in a manner that is causing harm to the plaintiff. However, the court may also order other forms of relief deemed relevant to the case, including a declaration of the plaintiff’s legal rights according to the circumstances surrounding the case.

 In some states, serving the complaint and summons officially commences the action, although the plaintiff may not be allowed to serve the two documents to the defendants in person. The defendant is allowed time to answer and admit to or contest parts of the complaint, including his or her defenses and claims against the plaintiff and related parties. Failing to respond to the complaint within the specified time may cause the court to pass a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. On the other hand, if the answer or response has a counterclaim (including a third-party complaint), the relevant party against whom the claim is leveled also has to respond within a specified time. Sometimes, the parties to the case voluntarily decide to resolve their dispute via alternative dispute resolution like a negotiated settlement or mediation. In contrast, failing to reach an agreement pushes the case to trial.

A civil lawsuit is often filed by person A against person B to seek compensation in monetary terms or damages. The parties involved are often advised to opt for the out-of-court settlement option because the court process can be hectic, stressful, and ridiculously expensive.