Lawsuit rules of procedure are based upon the
adversarial dispute resolution process of common
law. State and local laws within the framework
of the personal rights provided by the U.S.
Constitution define the procedure for the legal
process. The steps are fairly universal
throughout the United States.
To begin a lawsuit the plaintiff files a
Complaint with the court asking the court for a
remedy. The petition should be filed in the
court with jurisdiction where the action causing the
complaint occurred. The complaint should contain
certain information needed by the court and should be
completed and filed by the plaintiff's attorney.
The defendant named in the complaint is notified
about the complaint and has a fixed amount of time to
reply to the complaint. The defendant's attorney
may file a Motion to dismiss the complaint or
just immediately file an Answer with the court.
The answer may contain a counter suit against the
plaintiff if reason for one exists. If the
defendant does nothing, the the court will most likely
find in favor of the plaintiff.
After the complaint and the answer have been filed,
the two sides provide each other with copies of the
evidence and lists of witnesses that will be used to
support the complaint and defense in court. This
process is called Discovery. If the
discovery process shows that one side is clearly right
and the other wrong, the two sides may reach a
Settlement and avoid further litigation.
If a settlement has not been reached the complaint
proceeds to the Trial. During the trial,
both sides present their cases and either the judge or
the jury determines the legality of the matter.
The two parties may still reach a settlement at any
time prior to the judge or jury reaching a decision.
If the judge or jury finds that the facts of law
support the plaintiff, a Judgment is entered in
favor of the plaintiff specifying the remedy. If
the facts are found to support the defendant, either
the case will be Dismissed or a judgment may be
entered for the defendant if a counter suit was filed.
Usually the plaintiff includes a request in the
complaint that his or her legal expenses be paid by
the defendant if he or she prevails. Normally
each party pays their own legal expenses unless by
contract or law, legal expenses may be recovered.
Also, in order to recover damages, a plaintiff must
show proof of actual damages unless the law specifies
what damages may be recovered. In some cases,
the court or jury is allowed to specify an reasonable
amount of punitive damages. Punitive damages
have sometimes resulted in awards amounting to
millions of dollars.