A lawsuit is a legal dispute between private parties or the government. Its resolution can include financial compensation or other types of relief. In some cases, the plaintiff may also seek a declaration of a particular legal right. Lawsuits are often complex and may involve numerous issues of both fact and law.
In a civil case, the first step in a lawsuit is the filing of a complaint, which describes the plaintiff’s damages or injury and shows that there is a legal claim against one or more defendants. A plaintiff’s ability to file a lawsuit may depend on the ability to pay a court fee, or on being granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis.
After a complaint has been filed, it must be served on the defendant. The defendant must then have an opportunity to respond by filing an answer. In general, an answer must specifically address each allegation in the complaint. In some jurisdictions, a defendant may also assert counterclaims for damages or equitable relief against the plaintiff.
The courts encourage litigants to engage in alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation and arbitration. These techniques are designed to resolve disputes without the expense and delay of a trial. Litigants may also participate in pretrial discovery, which is the structured exchange of information and statements between the parties. This is meant to eliminate surprises and force the parties to drop frivolous claims or defenses before trial.
If a lawsuit is not settled, it will be tried by the judge or jury. In a civil trial, the jury must find that the defendant has caused harm to the plaintiff and award monetary damages or other types of relief.