How is a lawsuit started?
Get Legal Help Today
Secured with SHA-256 Encryption
UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.
While each jurisdiction and each court has its own specific rules that must be followed, exactly, in most states a lawsuit is started by filing a document named a complaint in the court clerk’s office.
The court or an attorney then issues a summons that is served on the defendant – sometimes by personally delivering it to him or her, other times by delivering it to an appropriate adult at the person’s home or place of business, and sometimes by sending it by registered or certified mail. (In some states, such as New York, a lawsuit is begun by serving the summons on the defendant and later filing the “Summons and Complaint” in court.) If the defendant cannot be found it may have to be published in a newspaper or two.
The exact procedure is typically found in the state’s code or rules of civil procedure, plus each court’s rules. The formalities must be strictly adhered to or the lawsuit can or will be dismissed. For example, the rules may specify the paper size, the type size and style, the color of the paper, the margins and spacing of words on the paper, and the quality of the paper! (For example, California now requires recycled paper with printed margins and numbered lines; some states require a specified type style – one state demands Courier and papers typed on Times Roman are rejected.)
Even in filing the Complaint, there may be strict rules, such as prior presentation of a demand letter, and exhaustion of all potential administrative or contractual remedies. An attorney will assist you in adhering to the proper procedure.