Definition of lawsuit
lawsuit (plural lawsuits)
- (law) In civil law, a case where two or more people disagree and one or more of the parties take the case to a court for resolution.
The lawyer advised his client against filing a lawsuit as it would take a lot of time and money to resolve.
A lawsuit or (less commonly) "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment will be given in the plaintiff's favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes. Although not as common, lawsuit may also refer to a criminal action, criminal proceeding, or criminal claim.
A lawsuit may involve dispute resolution of private law issues between individuals, business entities or non-profit organizations. A lawsuit may also enable the state to be treated as if it were a private party in a civil case, as plaintiff or defendant regarding an injury, or may provide the state with a civil cause of action to enforce certain laws.
The conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation. One who has a tendency to litigate rather than seek non-judicial remedies is called litigious. The plaintiffs and defendants are called litigants and the lawyers (attorneys) representing them are called litigators.
The progress of a lawsuit
The following is a generalized description of how a lawsuit may proceed in a common law jurisdiction:
- pleading: In law as practised in countries that follow the English models, a pleading is a formal written statement filed with a court by parties in a civil action, other than a motion. By stating what claims and defences are at issue, pleadings establish the issues to be decided by the court.
- pretrial discovery: (United States) In U.S.law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the opposing party by means of discovery devices including requests for answers to interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. (United Kingdom) The same process in England and Wales is known as "disclosure," and is always used in complex civil litigation. As in the USA, certain documents are privileged, such as letters between solicitors and experts. Full details are given in Legal professional privilege (England & Wales).
- trial and judgment: At trial, each side presents witnesses and enters evidence into the record, at the close of which the judge or jury renders their decision. Generally speaking, the plaintiff has the burden of proof in making his claims. The defendant may have the burden of proof on other issues, however, such as affirmative defenses. Also, at any time during this process from the filing of the complaint to the final judgment, the plaintiff may withdraw his or her complaint and end the whole matter, or the defendant may agree to a settlement.
- appeal: After a final decision has been made, either party or both may appeal from the judgment if they believe there had been a procedural error made by the trial court.
- enforcement: When a final judgment is entered, the plaintiff is usually barred under the doctrine of res judicata from trying to bring the same or similar claim again against that defendant, or from relitigating any of the issues, even under different legal claims or theories. This prevents a new trial of the same case with a different result, or if the plaintiff won, a repeat trial that merely multiplies the judgment against the defendant.
If the judgment is for the plaintiff, then the defendant must comply under penalty of law with the judgment, which will usually be a monetary award. If the defendant fails to pay, the court has various powers to seize any of the defendant's assets located within its jurisdiction, such as:
* Writ of execution (see writ)
* Bank account garnishment
* Liens (see lien)
* Wage garnishment
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