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How To File A Lawsuit

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When Should I File My Lawsuit?

Before taking any action, it is important to determine the statute of limitations pertaining to any cause of action, or legal claim, you may have against the other party. A statute of limitations is the timeframe within which you must file a lawsuit. For example, if the statute of limitations for breach of contract is four years, you will have four years to file a lawsuit from the date of the breach.

If you file a lawsuit after that time, your case may not be heard. There are some exceptions to the rule, but these exceptions only apply in certain circumstances, such as fraud or duress. A lawyer can help you determine the proper causes of action and the applicable statute of limitations.

Should I Try to Settle My Case First and Prepare a Demand Letter?

Depending on the type of case, it may be beneficial to start out with a demand letter. This usually consists of an explanation of the reasons why you were harmed or injured and a demand that the other party compensate you for damages. You can prepare the letter yourself, but having a lawyer write the letter on law office letterhead may give your demand more weight and make the other party take you more seriously. Further, a demand letter may lead to a settlement before the filing of a lawsuit, which can save significant time and money. A lawyer can explain the benefits of an early settlement, as well as help the client understand the realistic expectations of a lawsuit. 

Where and How Do I File My Lawsuit?

If you decide to file a lawsuit, you would file a complaint in court. You may file a lawsuit yourself without a lawyer. Some courts have self-help centers that assist individuals who decide to sue or defend against lawsuits themselves. Many courts also provide forms with fill-in-the-blank fields to make it easier for someone to file a lawsuit. In addition, court websites have FAQ sections and forms available. Though you can file a lawsuit on your own, keep in mind that certain legal matters can be complex and it might be in your best interest to hire a lawyer.

The complaint contains the claims or causes of action that you are suing for, such as breach of contract, negligence, or fraud. Depending on the jurisdiction, a plaintiff may be required to file either a fact pleading or notice pleading. A fact pleading entails more detail, as it requires each element of a claim to be supported by factual statements. For example, if you sue somebody for causing an auto accident, you might want to state in your complaint that the defendant had a duty of care to other drivers, including yourself; defendant breached the duty of care by running a red light, crashing into your car in the intersection; you were injured and suffered bodily injury requiring medical treatment; and ultimately, your injury was caused by defendant’s conduct.

By contrast, a notice pleading requires the plaintiff to provide only sufficient notice of the claim. Thus, in the foregoing scenario, you would only need to state that you are suing defendant for negligence arising out of the traffic collision.

With respect to cases filed in federal court, though you can file a fact pleading, only a notice pleading is required. You may want to consult a lawyer if you are unsure what type of pleading is required, as filing the wrong pleading can result in dismissal of your lawsuit. For example, if you file a notice pleading in a jurisdiction that requires fact pleading, the defendant may file a motion to dismiss your lawsuit because the complaint did not allege sufficient facts to support the claim.

Filing the wrong type of pleading may also require you to file another pleading, which in turn leads to more time and money spent, such as additional filing fees. Pleadings can be complicated, but lawyers familiar with the type of pleading required in a specific jurisdiction can help ease the process. 

Where Can I Find the Right Lawyer?

If you are planning to file a lawsuit, or have recently been sued, get expert help and find a lawyer who specializes in your case today. 

Photo of page author Lesley Chan

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-26-2017 01:46 PM PDT

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