Whether you are trying to get your money back for an unlawful eviction, or taking on a large corporation for an injury caused by a defective product, lawsuits can seem like a daunting process at any level. But with thorough preparation and the right civil litigation attorney, you should feel empowered to have your day in court.
The main question most will first ask is: How do you sue someone? There are essentially 7 steps one must follow to file a lawsuit; ask for payment, name the defendant, find the right court for your complaint, fill out the right forms, file the complaint, serve the complaint and lastly go to court. Attention to detail at each of these steps is key to winning a judgement.
Name the defendant
The first step in filing a suit is to identify the person or persons you are suing. This may seem easy enough but research is key in this step. For instance; if you were to get hit by a car while crossing the street, you would assume that the person driving the car is the only one at fault. However, if the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, the registered owner may also be liable even if they were not driving. Expanding further, perhaps the car is part of a ride-sharing company and they knowingly employed a driver that had a history of dangerous driving, they too could be liable. Investigating the incident requires research into the situation and into the person you believe to be at fault.
2. Ask for payment
Before filing your lawsuit, small claim courts require that you first seek compensation from the person you intend to sue either in person, by phone or in writing. Some courts require plaintiffs to send a demand letter first to try and solve the problem before going to court. While you may choose to ask for the payment directly, many choose a civil litigation attorney to send a demand letter on their behalf. Sometimes receiving a letter from a law firm is effective enough for a person to settle because the party knows you intend to file suit and it could cost them more money and time then the asked amount.
3. Find the appropriate court to file your complaint
Filing your complaint in the right court is key and can save you time and money. The plaintiff must first ask themselves how much they are seeking to win. In most small claims courts, the maximum judgement is capped at $10,000. If you seek payment in excess of that, you may have to file your complaint in another court based on where the defendant lives, where the incident occurred or a number of other factors. Filing in the wrong court can lead to dismissal and waste time that may not allow you to bring a lawsuit if your case is subject to a statute of limitations.
While you may have an attorney represent you in all courts save small claims, most will seek a civil litigation lawyer for larger complaints. Rely on their expertise that the suit was filed in the correct court.
4. Fill out court forms thoroughly
Once you determine where to file your complaint, you must fill out the required forms to file your complaint. Called a Plaintiff’s Complaint; this form tells the court about who you intend to sue and alerts the defendant as well. Most courts have employees that can help find what forms are needed to file if you are representing yourself in court, but a good law firm is the best option for obtaining the correct forms and filling them out accurately.
5. File your complaint
When your forms are complete, you may file them in the correct court with the court clerk and pay any fees due at the time of filing. Fees range depending on the type of lawsuit and on how much you are suing for. If the fees are too expensive, you may seek a fee waiver so that the case may proceed without payment. The court clerk will give you a court date at the time of filing and give you copies of your complaint. Make sure to keep your documents safe and put the court date on the calendar. Having an attorney at this stage is recommended because they are able to file the complaint on your behalf and calendar the appropriate dates.
6. Serve the complaint
If you already asked for payment and did not receive it, the person you are suing will likely know you intend to pursue legal action but they must be served with your complaint before your case can be heard. In California, the courts define service as when “someone-NOT you or anyone else listed in this case-gives a copy of your court papers to the person, business, or public entity, you are suing.” The defendant will receive a copy of the complaint, when and where the trial will be and what their next steps are. If you are filing the complaint yourself, many choose a family member or friend to serve the court papers. If you have a civil litigation attorney, the law firm will serve the person for you and they are particularly helpful if the person you are suing is hiding in anticipation of the lawsuit.
7. Go to court
The final step in this process is the most important because this is your opportunity to have your day in court and win a judgement against the defendant. It is essential that you come to court well prepared with proof, witnesses and any other required court documents including proof of service. If English is not your primary language, you must ask the court clerk for this accommodation in most cases at least a week prior to your trial date. Some courts will provide this service for free or a waive the fee if you cannot pay and some may require you to bring your own to court. If you have hired a law firm to represent you, they will build your case and prepare your proof and witnesses for the trial. A good civil litigation attorney is your best option in winning a judgement in your favor.
If you seek a Modesto civil litigation attorney to help you file a complaint, we are happy to guide you through this process. We at the Sodhi Law Group provide full service legal help and are here to answer any questions you may have. Please call us at (209) 303-7195 or fill out webform.