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This “How to File a Lawsuit” guide will break down the process of what needs to be accomplished to file a civil lawsuit step-by-step. This can be a complex and difficult process, so be sure to consult with an experienced civil lawyer before filing.
If you have any questions about filing a lawsuit, you can contact the offices of TorHoerman Law at any time for a free no-obligation consultation.
1. Consult With Potential Representatives For Legal Advice.
Before anything else, it is important that you consult with an attorney about your potential lawsuit. You need to be sure that you have a valid case so that you do not waste your own time and resources filing a case that is unlikely to be successful or a case that is unlikely to make it to trial. An experienced civil lawyer will help you to determine the strength of your case.
You should also be sure that your case falls within the state’s statute of limitations. Ask a legal representative to be sure that you are filing the case within the appropriate time frame.
Consultations are confidential, so don’t withhold information about your case from an attorney. It is best to share all the information that you have about your case during a consultation because it gives your potential attorney a better understanding of the case. An open and honest consultation will give you the most accurate prediction of the outcome of your case.
2. Hire an Attorney.
Once you have consulted with an attorney and determined that you have a viable claim, you should choose an attorney that will help to answer your “how to file a lawsuit” questions and will represent you in court. There are a number of factors that go into choosing an attorney, but the most important is selecting an experienced attorney who has tried similar types of cases before.
Say that you are involved in a car accident and want to file a car accident lawsuit – you should hire an attorney that has experience with handling car accident lawsuits. Or maybe you had a slip and fall accident inside of a private business – you would want to seek legal counsel from an experienced slip and fall lawyer.
Although you may feel uncomfortable asking, remember that it is entirely within your right as a potential client to ask a potential attorney if they have experience trying similar cases.
3. Find the Right Court to File the Lawsuit.
Choosing an appropriate location for your lawsuit requires legal analyses and knowledge of the relevant rules for the courts in your area. This step should be taken with an attorney. You and your attorney must find a court that fits multiple criteria before filing your case. The court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendants involved, subject matter jurisdiction over your case-type, and it must be located in the appropriate venue.
4. Draft and File the Complaint.
After choosing the appropriate court for your case, your attorney will draft the complaint. This is a formal document that is served to the defendant and filed with the court. The complaint informs the court of the parties involved in the lawsuit, an outline of the incident in question, the cause of action for the complaint, and all of the claims made against the defendant. The complaint generally contains an explanation for why the court holds jurisdiction over the case as well.
5. Serve the Defendant.
Once you have filed the complaint with the court, your complaint along with a court-issued Summons to Appear must be served to the defendant or defendants. The Summons to Appear informs the defendant that a legal claim has been filed against the defendant.
Generally, there are two options for serving the defendant.
6. File the Certificate of Service.
You or your attorney will also need to provide the court with a Certificate of Service. The Certificate of Service is a formal document filed with the court that acts as sworn testimony and confirms that you, the plaintiff, sent the defendant a Summons to Appear and a copy of the Complaint. It also provides the details of how the defendant was served.
Some courts require that you file the Certificate of Service / Proof of Service after you have served the defendant.
7. Begin Discovery.
After all the named defendants have responded to the formal Complaint, the next step is discovery.
During discovery, both parties conduct investigations, depose all parties involved, collect witness testimony, seek testimony from expert witnesses, and compile evidence to support their arguments. Discovery files are documented and shared between the prosecution and defense teams.
A more expanded explanation of discovery can be found in our Civil Lawsuit outline.
8. File Pre-trial Motions.
After discovery has closed, and before a trial begins, all other pre-trial issues will need to be addressed. These issues will be addressed through pre-trial motions. In most cases, attorneys from both sides will file pre-trial motions to have certain evidence and testimony removed from the hearing.
9. Opportunity to Settle.
It is important to keep in mind that far more lawsuits settle than go to court. Sometimes a case will be settled before it gets to trial.
10. Begin Trial.
If the parties fail to settle the case, then after all pre-trial motions have been filed, the trial will officially begin.
Opening statements will be made, experts and witnesses will be introduced, examined and cross-examined, arguments will be heard from both sides, and a judge or jury of peers will decide on the case.
For a more in-depth description of the trial, visit our civil lawsuit guide.
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The contents of this webpage have been prepared by TorHoerman Law, LLC for informational purposes only. None of this information is intended as either legal or medical advice or opinions. No attorney/client relationship is established with use of this website. Sending or receiving information through this site, posting to our blogs/news site does not establish an attorney/client relationship. An attorney/client relationship with TorHoerman Law is established only by an express and written agreement by TorHoerman Law to represent you. Our attorneys make a case-by-case assessment of any claims and results may vary depending on the facts concerning any case. The attorneys at TorHoerman Law are licensed to practice in Illinois, Missouri, and California. In some circumstances, cases may be sent to other qualified lawyers. In those circumstances, TorHoerman Law maintains joint responsibility.