How a Lawsuit Works


A lawsuit is a legal dispute between two or more parties. It can be a civil court case involving claims for money damages, or it may require the other party to do something or refrain from doing something.

A plaintiff files a complaint (or “summons and complaint”) to the court and serves it on the defendant. The complaint describes the dispute, explains the basis for the lawsuit, and asks the court to order relief, such as a judgment or an injunction.

After service of the summons and complaint, the defendant has 20 to 30 days in which to respond to the suit by filing an answer. This allows the defendant to admit or deny each claim made in the complaint and can be used to make counterclaims and cross-claims against other co-defendants.


In a business litigation case, discovery involves the exchange of documents, records, emails, and other information between the parties. It also includes obtaining evidence through interrogatories and taking depositions, which are live examinations of witnesses under oath.


Before a trial, the parties will usually engage in pretrial motions to exclude or include particular legal or factual issues. Some of these motions, such as motions for summary judgment, can be brought before the lawsuit even goes to trial, while others can be filed after the close of a trial to undo a jury verdict that is contrary to law or against the weight of the evidence.

When a case proceeds to trial, it will proceed in a sequence of steps called the “trial stage.” The trial stage can last for weeks or months, depending on the type of case and the complexity of the facts. At the end of a trial, a judgment will be entered, and both parties can appeal that judgment.

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