How to Start a Lawsuit

The process of going to court to settle disputes involving issues of private law (like injuries or property damage) between individuals, business entities and nonprofit organizations. It can also involve resolution of issues of public law in cases where the state is treated as a private party and sued for civil causes of action, like enforcing certain laws or seeking monetary damages for harm caused by agents of the government.

Suing someone can be costly and time consuming. There are deadlines to meet and procedures that must be followed. If you don’t follow the rules, it can affect how the court decides your case and whether you can even get your case heard. If you’re not sure what to do, consider talking with an attorney about your situation and options before starting a lawsuit.

The first step in a lawsuit is to file the correct paperwork with the court. The two basic papers that you’ll need to start a lawsuit are a Summons and a Complaint. If you have no money to hire a lawyer, you can request the court let you sue “in forma pauperis,” which means the judge will appoint you a legal representative and give you more time to pay the court filing fee. That process is discussed in Part 2.

You must also tell the defendant that you’re suing them by serving them with the summons and complaint. You may have already talked to the defendant about this, but you need to formally notify them by putting it in writing. In most cases, the defendant will know that they’re being sued before you file these papers, but it’s best to be safe and serve them anyway.

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