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The Basics Of American Lawsuits

If you and another party can’t come to an agreement and refuse any sort of arbitration, then you can resolve your differences by filing a civil lawsuit in a state or federal courthouse. This process can be very time-consuming, complicated, and expensive, but depending on the amount of money you want to recover it can be very much worth all the effort. If you don’t know much about the United States legal system aside from courtroom dramas, it’s a good idea to understand the stages that a lawsuit goes through.

Filing A Complaint

Every civil lawsuit in America starts with filing a complaint at the courthouse that has the proper jurisdiction. The complaint is a brief summary of your problems with the party or parties you’re suing and why you believe you deserve compensation for some action or negligence on their part that caused a personal injury or property damage that you need to pay for. The complaint will also mention the amount of money you’re seeking as compensation. The defendants then have a chance to respond to this complaint.

Pretrial Motions

After a complaint is filed, both sides of a lawsuit can file pretrial motions that the judge assigned to the case will rule on. These motions allow the sides to argue about whether a piece of evidence should be part of the trial, and certain motions can end a lawsuit entirely. For instance, most truly frivolous lawsuits end with a motion to dismiss because the judge will decide that the case has no merit and doesn’t deserve the court’s time. Other cases end with a motion of summary judgement because the defendant can’t argue against the undisputed facts of the case.


Pretrial motions are filed during the discovery period, a time when both sides get a chance to build their case by gathering evidence, recording witness depositions, and asking each other for related documents and evidence. If one side refuses to hand something over, the other side can go to the judge assigned to the case and ask for a subpoena and force them to give up the information.

Sometimes the information is confidential and has nothing to do with the case, but in general the rules of discovery are very liberal about what qualifies as relevant. That’s why corporations will sometimes take the opposite approach and try to bury a plaintiff in a lot of unnecessary paperwork. Fortunately, the judge can also rule that this is unacceptable and force the corporation to deliver their information in digital form or else set a limit on the documents the corporation provides.

Jury Selection

Both the plaintiff and the defendant in a civil case have a right to decide who gets to be on the jury for their trial, with the goal being to find a group that can be impartial to both sides. Jury selection can often be a time when one side or the other realizes that a trial is about to begin, and so it can sometimes be the moment when the two sides finally agree to an out-of-court settlement.


Once the jury is ready and the evidence is collected, the trial begins. The plaintiff always goes first and the defendant goes second, and both sides will present their evidence to the jury, call witnesses to repeat their written depositions, and educate the jury about important points of law, science, and other facts that are necessary to understand the case. The jury then goes to a private room to discuss the trial and comes to a result. Civil cases are about liability and fault rather than guilt and innocence, and so their results can be very nuanced.


After the jury renders a verdict, the losing party has an opportunity to appeal to a higher court to overturn the result. The grounds for this appeal include new evidence, a bad jury, a bad legal process, and so on. The appeals process sometimes ends as soon as it begins, but other times it can take even longer than the discovery period and trial.

Throughout this whole process, you’ll want a lawyer you can count on who will be able to handle the court fees and guide you through the discovery process so you can get the best result possible. Often this means ending the trial before it begins by coming to a settlement with the other party. So whether your lawsuit gets its day in court or whether you get the settlement you want before then, make sure you have a good personal injury lawyer to help you.

During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

The Basics Of American Lawsuits

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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