How a Lawsuit Works

A lawsuit is a legal action brought by one person or company against another in a court of law. In a civil lawsuit, parties can seek compensation for damages or ask the court to force one party to do or not do something (equitable relief). Civil litigation usually involves disputes between individuals, companies and sometimes government entities. It follows a set of steps, including filing initial papers called pleadings, discovery, and a trial by judge or jury. The parties may halt the litigation at any time by voluntarily settling the case.

The lawsuit process varies by jurisdiction and court. There are many rules that must be followed and the litigants themselves often dictate the timing of each step, although they must comply with procedural laws or hire competent counsel to do so.

The process begins when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and formally delivers a copy to the defendant. The complaint describes the alleged harm and the legal basis for holding the defendant responsible. Typically, the defendant will file a response to the complaint and raise defenses to the claim.

If the court finds that the plaintiff has successfully proved all elements of their case, they will win. The court will award the plaintiff monetary compensation and/or order the defendant to do or not do something (equitable remedy).

If the decision is unfavorable, either party can request an appeal. An appellate court reviews the trial record and decides if the lower court erred in its decision.

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