Basics of Filing a Lawsuit

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
Plaintiff files COMPLAINT and SUMMONS Defendant files ANSWER Fact finding occurs through DISCOVERY Motion Practice JUDGMENT or SETTLEMENT is entered.
A TRIAL may occur when settlement is not reached.


1.   Plaintiff files a complaint and summons with the proper court County Court (claims under $15,000, Small Claims Court if under $5000.00), Circuit Court (over $15,000.00.) When a matter becomes involved in a lawsuit, the process becomes known as litigation.

2.    The complaint and summons are served on the Defendant or a designated registered agent. The Defendant may either be served by mail or personally by a process server.

3.    After being served, the Defendant has a specified time period to file an answer with the Court usually 20 days. An answer is a document that must be filed with the Court that responds in writing to the allegations set forth in the complaint. It will have the same caption as the complaint and will be filed with the same court.

4.   The next stage of the lawsuit process is known as Discovery. Discovery allows for each party to request information including answers to questions and documents. Such requests will come in the form of Admissions (asking you to deny or admit stated facts), Interrogatories (detailed questions concerning the facts of the case) and Production (asking the opposing party to produce relevant documents).

5.   Failing to respond to Discovery in a timely or factual manner can lead to severe legal consequences. However, the opposing counsel will typically file a Motion to Compel. A Motion to Compel asks the judge to enforce the Discovery requests against the opposing party. It is important to answer Discovery in a truthful and timely manner even if you do not agree with the information or allegations the opposing party is making.

Motions are written requests asking the court to do something. Filing a formal motion is the only way to make such a request. Some motions will require a hearing to be held where parties must appear in court for the judge to make a decision. For most motions, the judge can make a formal ruling in writing without a hearing.

6.   A motion for default is filed when the Defendant(s) fail to answer the Complaint. The judge will review the motion and the grounds for seeking the money and make a ruling. If the judge approves the motion, a formal Default Judgment will be entered against the Defendant ordering them to pay damages.

When a Default Judgment is entered against a Defendant, the Defendant has a specified time period to pay the judgment or dispute the judgment. If the Defendant fails to pay or dispute the judgment within the specified time period, he or she can be found in contempt of court.

8.  In Florida the parties of a lawsuit are generally  ordered to proceed into mediation where a settlement is hopefully reached between the parties. Typically this occurs after each party meets with a mediator who reviews the facts of the case in an independent manner and makes a recommendation. A settlement reached in mediation is a contract and will be binding on the parties. Courts hear thousands of claims per year, and this is one way to remedy the conflict without having to enter a courtroom.

9.   If mediation is not successful, or the case goes directly to trial, a judge or jury will make a ruling and enter a judgment at the close of all evidence and argument. Trials can often take several days, require expert witness testimony (even in civil trials) and cost several thousands of dollars. It is important that you have a strong claim when bringing a case to the trial process.

9.   After the judge enters a judgment, the losing party will have to pay on the judgment. Many parties fail to pay the judgment. Upon failure to act or pay on the judgment, the winning party may need to enforce the judgment. This process requires that the party file a Petition for Contempt, have the opposing party served by a Sheriff and submit proof of service to the Clerk of Court to obtain a Court hearing. The Court will then use legal means necessary to obtain the judgment including garnishment of wages and other income.





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