A lawsuit is a legal action brought by one party against another in a court of law to resolve a dispute. It is a way to seek justice and compensation for injuries or losses caused by another person or company. Keep reading to learn what a lawsuit is, how it works, and what to expect if you find yourself involved in one.

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What Is a Lawsuit?

A lawsuit is a legal term referring to an action brought in a court of law by a plaintiff who seeks a legal remedy.

A lawsuit typically involves a dispute between two parties, with one party suing the other for compensation or to get the other party to take a specific action.

Lawsuits can be filed in different courts, including state, federal, and international courts, and they can involve a wide range of legal issues and subject matter.

Common Types of Lawsuits

Some common types of lawsuits are personal injury, medical malpractice, and product liability lawsuits. Other types of lawsuits include contract disputes, defamation cases, and criminal cases.

These different types of lawsuits are often classified as civil, class action, and criminal lawsuits.

Civil Lawsuit Definition

A civil case is a lawsuit filed by a private citizen or company against another party in an effort to seek some form of compensation. A civil action can cover a wide range of issues, but they do not result in any sort of jail time or government-sanctioned punishment.

Types of civil lawsuits include:

Asbestos lawsuit: Asbestos exposure victims can file a lawsuit if they are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, or ovarian cancer.

Bankruptcy lawsuit: This involves legal action related to a bankruptcy claim.

Birth injury lawsuit: A family can file a birth injury lawsuit when a medical mistake causes their child to suffer an injury like brain damage, cerebral palsy, or Erb’s palsy before, during, or shortly after birth.

Breach of contract lawsuit: This is a legal action filed by one party when another party fails to fulfill the terms of a contract.

Defamation lawsuit: Defamation occurs when a person makes a false statement about someone else and harms their reputation. A defamation lawsuit seeks damages for that harm.

Medical malpractice lawsuit: This is a legal action filed against a hospital, doctor, or other medical professional over a medical mistake that caused harm to a patient.

Personal injury lawsuit: This is a legal action seeking compensation for harm caused by someone else’s negligence or intentional actions. There are many types of personal injury suits, including car accidents and slip-and-fall accidents.

Product liability lawsuit: People who are injured by defective or dangerous products can take legal action against the product manufacturer, distributor, and/or seller. Some types of product liability lawsuits include dangerous drugs and defective medical devices.

Sexual abuse or sexual assault lawsuit: This is a legal action filed by a victim seeking justice and compensation for harm caused by sexual abuse or assault. A civil sexual abuse lawsuit is considered a type of personal injury claim and is separate from any criminal proceedings.

Workers’ compensation lawsuit: Employees can sue their employer and its workers’ compensation insurance carrier to seek compensation for a work-related injury or illness.

Wrongful termination lawsuit: An employee who has been unfairly or illegally fired can sue their employer for wrongful termination.

Wrongful death lawsuit: This is a legal action filed by the estate or surviving family members of a person who died as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional actions.

Class Action Lawsuit Definition

A lawyer meets with a client to discuss a lawsuitThe definition of a class action lawsuit is a type of legal claim that involves a large group of similarly situated persons collectively filing a claim in court, typically against a defendant or a group of defendants, alleging common legal claims.

The members of the class are represented by one or more named plaintiffs, who act on behalf of the whole class. Any compensation secured through a class action lawsuit is split between all of the plaintiffs.

For example, a group of consumers injured by the same product might come together to file a class action lawsuit against the product manufacturer.

In short, a class action is a way to resolve a number of similar claims brought by a large group of plaintiffs with a single lawsuit.

Another thing to remember about class actions is that they are a type of civil lawsuit — no criminal charges are involved.

Criminal Lawsuit Definition

Criminal lawsuits are legal proceedings that involve accusations of a crime, typically brought by the government against an individual or group of individuals.

The 3 categories of criminal lawsuits from most to least serious are:

  1. Felony
  2. Misdemeanor
  3. Infraction

The goal of a criminal lawsuit is to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and impose penalties or sanctions — like jail time, probation, or fines — for the crime committed.

How the Lawsuit Process Works

Criminal lawsuits begin with an arrest, followed by a formal accusation by the prosecution and a plea from the defendant. Lawsuits are either brought forth by agents of the state — a state district attorney or prosecutor for state issues or a general attorney in federal cases — or private citizens.

The case then proceeds to trial where the evidence is presented and a verdict is reached. Lawyers who specialize in criminal law handle these cases.

A civil lawsuit operates differently and begins with one party bringing a claim against the other party and waiting for the opposing party’s response.

How to File a Lawsuit in a Civil Case

Here are the basic steps in the lawsuit process.

  1. Gather evidence: Gathering evidence is the first step in filing a successful lawsuit. This may include collecting legal documents, taking photographs or videos, obtaining witness statements, and consulting with medical or other experts.
  2. File your complaint: When a person decides to move forward with a lawsuit, they file a civil complaint with a court. This is typically done with the help of an attorney who specializes in the specific type of case being brought forward. The complaint outlines the legal and factual basis for the lawsuit and names the parties involved.
  3. Defendant answers the complaint: After the defendant has received the complaint, they have a specific amount of time to respond to the lawsuit. They can choose to admit or deny the allegations and may also file a motion to dismiss the case. If the defendant fails to respond, a default judgment may be entered against them.
  4. Discovery phase: During this phase, each party can request evidence, documents, and other information from the other party. This is done through methods such as depositions, interrogatories, and requests for the production of documents.
  5. Defendant files a counterclaim: The defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff in response to the original complaint, seeking relief or damages.
  6. Settlement negotiations begin: During the lawsuit settlement negotiation phase, lawyers for both parties attempt to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement rather than going to trial.
  7. Trial takes place: If a settlement is unable to be reached, the case may go to trial. During a trial, both parties present their case to a judge and/or jury, with their respective attorneys providing evidence and arguments. Trials can take months or even years to prepare for and may take weeks or months to conclude. While trials may result in more compensation than a settlement, there is no guarantee of compensation if your case goes to trial.
  8. Verdict: After the trial, the jury and/or judge will deliberate and issue a final verdict. If the plaintiff wins the case, the defendant(s) are usually ordered to pay the plaintiff a certain amount of money. This may include the cost of their legal fees.

Additional Components of a Lawsuit

Lawsuits involve a number of important components. Two of these components are pleadings and motions.

Lawsuit Pleadings

Lawsuit pleadings are formal written documents that initiate or respond to a lawsuit.

Pleadings include these legal documents:

  • Complaint, which is filed by the plaintiff, outlining their case and what they are seeking from the defendant
  • Answer, which is filed by the defendant, responding to the allegations made in the complaint
  • Reply, which is filed by the plaintiff, responding to any new matters raised in the defendant’s answer
  • Counterclaim, which is filed by the defendant, asserting a claim against the plaintiff in response to the original complaint. However, not all cases involve a counterclaim.

Lawsuit Motions

In a lawsuit, a motion is a civil procedure and a request made to a judge for a ruling or court order.

Motions include:

  • Motion to dismiss, a request to dismiss the case based on legal insufficiencies
  • Motion for discovery, a request for the opposing party to provide information or evidence
  • Motion for summary judgment, which asks the judge to rule on the case without a trial because the undisputed facts of the case make it clear that one party should win

Factors That Affect Lawsuits

Factors that affect lawsuits are numerous and complex. Whether it’s a class action, civil court case, or a federal court proceeding, there are several key elements that can determine the outcome of a case.

A gavel sits by the scales of justice Conduct of the Defendant

The defendant’s behavior during the incident leading to the lawsuit can significantly affect the outcome of a lawsuit. If the defendant’s actions were egregious or malicious, it can increase the likelihood of a favorable verdict for the plaintiff.

Level of Negligence of All Parties

The level of negligence of all parties involved in a lawsuit is a crucial factor that can affect the outcome of a case.

In some situations, a victim may not be able to file a lawsuit if they were partially responsible for the incident that led to their injury or loss. This is because some states follow the legal doctrine of contributory negligence, which bars any recovery if the victim was even slightly at fault.

Other state laws provide for comparative negligence, which allows plaintiffs to recover damages even if they were partially at fault.

The level of negligence of the defendant is also important, as it can impact the amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff.

Strength of Evidence for the Claim

The strength of the evidence in support of the plaintiff’s claim is critical. The plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the evidence presented must be more convincing than that of the defense.

Whether a Judgment Is Possible

Whether a judgment is possible is an essential factor that affects lawsuits. Sometimes, the evidence is not strong enough to prove the plaintiff’s claim, or there is not enough evidence to prove the defendant’s liability.

In such cases, the court may dismiss the case, or the parties may decide to settle out of court.

Out-of-Pocket Case Costs

Out-of-pocket case costs can be a significant factor that affects lawsuits. These costs include attorney fees, court fees, and expenses related to gathering evidence.

The cost of pursuing a lawsuit can be a barrier for some claimants, especially in cases where the potential damages are relatively small. However, some law firms work on a contingency fee basis, which means you will not be charged any money unless your lawyer successfully recovers compensation for you.

Defendant’s Resources

The defendant’s resources, such as their financial and legal resources, can also impact the outcome of a lawsuit. If the defendant is a large corporation that has substantial resources, they may be more likely to hire experienced lawyers and use their resources to defend the case.

Did you know?

In some cases, defendants may be able to drag out the case, which can be challenging for plaintiffs who do not have the time or money necessary to maintain a prolonged legal battle.

Class action lawsuits, which involve a group of plaintiffs, are often used when individual plaintiffs may not have the resources to pursue a lawsuit on their own.

Civil cases can be heard in either state or federal court. Arbitration is another option for resolving disputes outside of the court system.

Alternatives to Lawsuits

While filing a legal claim and going through the court system is a common way to resolve disputes, there are also multiple alternatives to a jury trial.


Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that involves a neutral third party, known as a mediator. This person facilitates discussions between the parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable resolution to their dispute.

This process can be used to resolve a variety of legal disputes, including civil cases such as personal injury claims, contract disputes, and family law matters.

Mediation is typically less formal and less expensive than going to trial, and it allows the parties to have more control over the outcome of their dispute.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a process used as an alternative to litigation or going to court to resolve disputes.

This process can involve:

  • Arbitration
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation
  • Other methods

ADR is generally less formal, expensive, and time-consuming than going to court, making it an attractive option for many parties involved in a legal dispute. Sometimes courts offer ADR.

The ADR method can be used in a variety of legal contexts, including civil lawsuits, employment disputes, personal injury claims, and business disputes.

Get Help Filing Your Lawsuit

If you need legal advice or assistance with filing a lawsuit in state court, look for an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable about your type of case.

The right lawyer can guide you through the process and help you achieve a favorable outcome.

Lawsuit Definition FAQs

Why are some claims called lawsuits?

The two terms are often used interchangeably. A claim is a demand for damages from a negligent party. People often make claims with an insurance company to request damages because of a negligent party’s actions.

In contrast, a lawsuit is a legal mechanism for your claims to be heard and decided.

What is the money called in a lawsuit?

The money awarded to the plaintiff in a lawsuit is called damages.

There are 2 types of damages:

  • Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for losses suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions.
  • Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for particularly bad behavior in hopes of deterring them from repeating these actions in the future.

What is a civil lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit is a lawsuit filed by a person or company against another party in pursuit of some form of compensation. Although civil lawsuits cover a wide variety of legal issues from contract disputes to personal injury cases, they do not include criminal actions.

What is a class action lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is a type of civil lawsuit in which a group of people who have suffered similar injuries join together to sue a common defendant.

What happens if you avoid a lawsuit?

Avoiding a lawsuit is not recommended as it can lead to a default judgment against you, resulting in legal consequences such as wage garnishment or property seizure.

It’s best to address any legal issues promptly and directly with the help of an experienced attorney.

Do you need a lawyer to file a lawsuit?

While it’s possible to file a lawsuit without a lawyer, it’s generally not recommended.

Lawsuits involve complex legal procedures and rules, and a lawyer can provide valuable guidance and representation throughout the process.

Written by: makes it easier to take legal action. We have information, lawsuit guides, and breaking news about drugs, products, and other issues that could affect you.

ReferencesView References
  1. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). “Civics.” Retrieved April 21, 2023, from
  2. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). “Criminal law and procedure.” Retrieved April 21, 2023, from
  3. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). “Personal injury.” Retrieved April 21, 2023, from
  4. New York State Senate. (n.d.). “Consolidated laws of New York - Criminal procedure.” Retrieved April 21, 2023, from

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