Read this vocabulary term page to understand the legal definition and meaning of lawsuit.

What is a Lawsuit?

A lawsuit is a legal proceeding filed by one party against another party in a court of law. A civil lawsuit begins with a complaint being filed in court in order to resolve disputes and grievances between multiple parties, including people, companies, or the government.

The person/group/entity that files the case is known as the plaintiff(who is suing), while the person/group/entity against whom the lawsuit is filed is known as the defendant(who is getting sued).

The court can review the evidence presented and hears arguments from both parties, the witnesses & testimony before deciding on a verdict.

The term ‘lawsuit’ refers to any civil or criminal legal action. Similarly, both civil and criminal suits have a litigation process, with the entities involved in the lawsuit known as litigants and the attorneys representing them as litigators.

What are the Different Types of Lawsuits?

There are many different types of lawsuits. Although they share many common legal themes and requirements, each has its unique procedures depending on the type of case and its details.

Also, the venue of jurisdiction and the court overseeing the legal proceeding can make each type of lawsuit even more unique.

Lawsuit legal glossary term

List of the common types of lawsuits:

  • Personal injury lawsuits: These claims are filed by individuals who have been injured due to another party’s negligence or intentionally damaging actions. A personal injury case is a type of tort claim.Examples include car accidents, slip and fall accidents, assault, and medical malpractice cases.
  • Employment lawsuits: These lawsuits involve disputes between employees and employers. These cases usually involve an employee suing an employer, such as for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and wage and hour disputes.
  • Contract disputes: These lawsuits involve disputes over the terms and conditions of a contract. One party is suing the other party for failing to keep their side of their obligations from the contract.Some examples of contract disputes include breach of contract, non-performance, failure to pay, and breaking a non-disclosure agreement(NDA). If the plaintiff in contract disputes wins the lawsuit, they can receive financial compensation in multiple ways.
  • Intellectual property lawsuits: These IP lawsuits involve disputes over intellectual property rights. Typically, a plaintiff files a civil lawsuit against the defendant for IP infringement, which is a federal crime. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights all fall within the IP lawsuit type category.
  • Class action lawsuits: These lawsuits involve a large group of individuals who file a single claim behind a lead plaintiff for all being harmed by the same defendant(s). Class action suits often involve defective products or false advertising with a large corporation as the defendant.
  • Environmental lawsuits: These lawsuits involve disputes related to environmental safety issues, such as pollution, toxic waste, oil spills, dumping of chemicals, and other environmental hazards.
  • Bankruptcy lawsuits: These lawsuits involve dealing with disputes related to debt problems, including both people and companies. A person or legal entity files a bankruptcy claim under a Bankruptcy Code of the US Chapter 11 to have the court intervene and resolve debt claims made against them. These suits can involve discharging of debts, foreclosure, and creditor claims.
  • Family law lawsuits: These civil lawsuits and suits for injunctive relief involve family-related disputes, such as divorce, child support & custody, guardianship, alimony, and protection orders against involving domestic violence.

This list is just a select few of the many types of lawsuits that can be filed in civil court.

It’s always vital to obtain legal advice from an experienced attorney who can help you determine the best option for you, given the specific legal requirements and procedures involved in your particular case.

Can a Lawsuit Be Reopened After Settlement?

You are unable to reopen a lawsuit after a settlement due to the fact that when you settle a lawsuit, the insurance company makes you sign a settlement agreement. In these documents, you waive the right to any further legal proceedings.

Therefore, by signing this settlement agreement, you consent to no longer holding other individuals, companies, or entities liable.

How Much Does a Lawsuit Cost?

The cost of a lawsuit can vary depending on a number of factors, the type of case, the complexity of the case, the length of time it takes to resolve it, and the type of attorney representing you.

Here are some of the most common costs associated with lawsuits:

  • Attorney fees: Lawyers typically charge by the hour, so the cost of a lawsuit will depend on how many hours the lawyer or team of lawyers work on the case. Attorney fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per hour, depending on the experience and reputation of the lawyer and law firm. Additionally, attorneys at law firms in big cities typically charge more per hour than those in smaller cities and towns where the cost of living is lower.
  • Law firm support staff: Lawyers that bill hourly will often rely on fellow law firm employees such as legal assistants to help with clerical work such as uploading files. The fee averages about $75-150 per hour for the legal assistant’s work. Having non-attorneys do the filing and paperwork saves the client money.
  • Law firm case costs: Clients must reimburse law firms for the expenses relating to research and preparation for the case. These expenses often include the cost of third-party research software such as Lexis Nexis and West Law, as some features cost per search or extra to access special court records.Regarding West Law, that can cost an additional few hundred dollars per court record, so it helps to hire a large law firm that has bulk a pricing subscription on the software, which reduces the cost of the software for the clients.
  • Court costs: Filing fees, deposition costs, and other court-related expenses can add up quickly. The cost of court fees and other expenses will depend on the jurisdiction and the specific requirements of the case.
  • Expert witness fees: In some cases, expert witnesses may be needed to testify on complex issues related to the case. These experts may charge a substantial fee for their services per day.
  • Discovery costs: Discovery is the process by which both parties exchange information related to the case. This process can involve significant time and expense, particularly if large amounts of data need to be collected and analyzed.
  • Settlement or judgment costs: If the case is settled or decided in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant may be required to pay damages or other costs associated with the lawsuit.Conversely, a judge can order the plaintiff to pay for the defendant’s attorney’s fees under certain circumstances if they lost the lawsuit.

Overall, the cost of a lawsuit can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more, depending on the case’s specific circumstances.

Discussing the potential costs of a lawsuit with your attorney before proceeding with legal action is essential.

How Long After an Incident Can You File a Lawsuit?

The amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after an incident is known as the statute of limitations. The specific statute of limitations for a particular type of lawsuit can vary by state and by the type of claim involved.

In general, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the incident that gave rise to the claim.

For example, for a personal injury claim in Texas, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury, while in Florida, it is four years.

However, there are exceptions to these rules, as the specific facts and circumstances of the case can impact the statute of limitations. One such case type that can have an exception by tolling the statute of limitations is product liability cases.

You should speak with an attorney as soon as possible after an incident to understand the applicable statute of limitations and any other deadlines or requirements that may impact your ability to file a lawsuit.

Failing to file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations can result in the claim being barred. That means you missed your opportunity to file suit and are unable to pursue legal action for your injuries.

What Happens if You Ignore a Lawsuit?

Ignoring a lawsuit will lead to an unfavorable outcome since it could result in the court awarding a monetary judgment against you by default.

If someone does not respond to being served a lawsuit, this can lead the person/party who initiated the lawsuit to request a default judgment against the defendant.

This could be anything from wages being seized, bank accounts attached, or property being taken.

How Long Does Discovery Take in a Lawsuit?

The duration of the discovery process in a lawsuit can vary widely depending on several factors. The complexity, type of case, and amount of evidence and information involved all affect the duration of discovery.

In general, discovery is the longest phase of the case and can take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete. Discovery in criminal cases averages much longer than that of civil lawsuits.

During the discovery phase, each party has the opportunity to request and gather information and evidence from the other party through methods such as written disclosures, requests for the production of documents, and depositions of witnesses.

The process can be time-consuming as parties must review and analyze the information and evidence provided.

They also may need to conduct additional follow-up discovery as new information comes to light and attorneys seek to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their claims before heading to trial.

In most cases, courts will set a deadline for the completion of discovery, which can help to ensure that the process moves forward in a timely and efficient manner.

However, in complex cases or cases with multiple parties involved, discovery can still take a significant amount of time.

How Much is a Civil Lawsuit Worth?

There is no clear answer on how much a civil case is worth. First, most civil claims do not involve suing for injuries and damages.

However, for civil suits where the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation, it all depends on the strength of the claim and evidence, the results desired, and if the pros outweigh the cons of the expense of bringing the lawsuit.

A good case needs to have proof that a law or legal standard was violated or broken.

A civil case is worth pursuing if the claim, and there is sufficient evidence that the defendant is responsible and that the claim can be proved in the eyes of the court.

Civil lawyers can help evaluate information about the claim and see if the claim meets the required standards and is worth pursuing.

The desired results of a case are specific to a type of case and will change from person to person. One case outcome may be satisfactory for one plaintiff but may feel unfair for another.

A lot depends on what the client defines as a favorable resolution or settlement amount. So, in theory, the less that number is, the lower the case is worth when negotiating a settlement.

For possible jury verdicts, lawyers use prior cases that are similar to determine an estimate of how much the verdict may be worth.

Doing so can help temper the expectations of the attorney’s clients to help them better understand what is realistic for a final verdict or settlement sum amount. Lastly, a client should consider it a risk vs. reward scenario.

That will help them understand whether the potential reward that can be gained from the successful outcomes of the suit is worth assuming risk and financially adverse outcomes if they lose the lawsuit.

Again there is no overall answer, and each case and client is different, but those are the values to evaluate when wondering if a case is worth it.

Are Lawsuit Settlements Taxable?

Settlements are considered income. According to the IRS, all income is generally taxable unless specified explicitly as tax-exempt income by law. So most types of lawsuit settlements are taxable income.

However, this rule has significant exceptions, as personal injury settlements qualify as non-taxable for the most part.

If you have concerns about owing taxes on your settlement money, you should speak with an IRS tax attorney and a financial advisor for advice on how to handle your post-settlement tax situation.

Can You File a Lawsuit On Behalf of Someone Else?

There are only certain circumstances in which someone can file a lawsuit on behalf of another person.

A court will accept your filing of a claim on someone’s behalf if you are the parent of the minor or a legal guardian of the person you are filing.

Additionally, if you have been granted power of attorney or are the executor of an estate, you can also take legal action on another person or entity’s behalf.

Although, there are limitations in place, even when you can sue on another’s behalf.

What Happens if a Plaintiff or Defendant Dies During a Lawsuit?

If a plaintiff or defendant dies during a lawsuit, the legal proceedings will always be affected to some degree. However, the amount the case proceedings are affected depends on the circumstances and the type of case.

In a civil suit, the lawsuit is temporarily put on hold if a defendant dies. The surviving family members can go to a probate court, where the dead defendant’s estate is reviewed before the final distribution is approved to the beneficiaries.

During the probate process, a personal representative is appointed to handle the defendant’s estate and any outstanding legal matters, including the ongoing lawsuit.

The personal representative will step into the defendant’s shoes and continue to defend the lawsuit on their behalf. If the plaintiff dies, the lawsuit is temporarily put on hold while the probate court appoints a personal representative to take over the case.

However, the claims may change depending on the cause of the plaintiff’s death. If the plaintiff’s death was unrelated to the lawsuit, the personal representative might be able to pursue a survival action on behalf of the deceased.

In a survival action, the personal representative substitutes the deceased plaintiff, and any recovered money goes to the plaintiff’s estate.

If the plaintiff’s death was related to the lawsuit, eligible survivors might be able to pursue a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for their losses resulting from the death.

In either case, it is crucial to consult with an experienced attorney to understand the legal options available and navigate the complexities of the probate and legal processes.

Does Lawsuit Settlement Affect Social Security Benefits?

A lawsuit settlement may affect Social Security benefits if it is considered income for the recipient. Social Security benefits are mainly based on a person’s income. So if a lawsuit settlement check increases a person’s income too much, their Social Security benefits may be reduced or completely lost.

Still, the impact of a lawsuit settlement on Social Security benefits will depend on the case’s specific circumstances.

For example, for personal injury case settlements, it may be possible to structure the settlement to minimize its impact on the plaintiff’s qualifying for Social Security benefits.

Attorneys work with financial advisors to accomplish this using various financial instruments and methods. Such methods include setting up a special needs trust or structured annuities.

Annuities allow the settlement to be paid in smaller increments over time instead of a lump sum.

It is crucial to speak with an attorney who specializes in this before signing a lawsuit settlement agreement to understand its implications on your Social Security benefits and other aspects of your financial situation.

Also, before you file a lawsuit, it is wise to inform the attorney about your receiving Social Security benefits.

It typically makes sense to file a personal injury lawsuit even if you are receiving SSI payments, as the money recovered in the settlement that pays for the costs already owed, like medical bills, should not stop you from being able to get future Social Security payments.

The main issue arises when the final settlement check is too large. So the plaintiff risks losing their benefits and incurring Social Security liens.

What is a Probate Lawsuit?

A probate lawsuit, also known as a probate dispute or estate litigation, is a type of legal action that involves a dispute over the administration of a deceased person’s estate.

Probate is the legal process where a person’s assets are distributed after their death, typically according to the terms of their will.

However, if there is a lack of an inheritance will to provide instructions on how to distribute the assets, then according to the intestacy laws.

Probate lawsuits can arise for various reasons, such as disputes over the validity of a will, disagreements among heirs over the distribution of assets, or allegations of misconduct by an executor or administrator of the estate.

Probate litigation may involve issues such as breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence, fraud, or forgery.

What is a Partition Lawsuit?

A partition lawsuit is a type of legal action that is used to divide property that two or more individuals jointly own but can not agree on what to do with it.

The purpose of a partition lawsuit is to allow each owner to obtain their share of the property through a sale or a physical division of the property.

In a partition lawsuit, the court will typically issue a judgment and appoint a commissioner or partitioner referee to oversee the division or sale of the property.

The commissioner or referee will then act as a neutral third party to determine the property’s fair market value. They can divide it into separate shares or order the property to be sold and the proceeds divided among the co-owners.

What is Antitrust Lawsuit?

An antitrust lawsuit is a legal action brought against a company or companies for anticompetitive behavior. The lawsuits address antitrust violations, which can harm consumers and other businesses. Antitrust laws aim to promote fair competition by preventing the formation of monopolies and other forms of market control and manipulation.

The government(federal and state), people, and companies can file antitrust lawsuits and can be brought for a variety of antitrust crimes, including:

  • price-fixing
  • bid-rigging
  • tieing
  • market allocation
  • monopolization.

These unfair business practices and antitrust violations can harm consumers by increasing prices or reducing the product choices and services available. Additionally, these behaviors can damage other companies by limiting their ability to compete in an open marketplace.

An early and strong US antitrust law is the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The Sherman Act outlaws monopolies and gives the federal government the power to dissolve contracts that create an unreasonable restraint of trade.

What is the Statute of Limitations for the Roundup Lawsuit?

For a Roundup lawsuit, the statute of limitations can vary depending on the state in which the lawsuit is filed and the specific circumstances of the case.

In general, the statute of limitations is the duration within which a lawsuit must be filed with the court. If a claim is not filed within the applicable statute of limitations, the Roundup victim with a claim will lose their right to bring the lawsuit.

For Roundup lawsuits, the statute of limitations may be determined by several factors, including:

  • Date when the person with the cancer claim was exposed to Roundup
  • Date of the Roundup victim’s diagnosis of cancer or other illness
  • Date when the Roundup cancer victim died(wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a dead loved one)
  • State of the jurisdiction where the case is required to be filed.

In some states, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, including those involving Roundup, is only one year from the date of the injury or diagnosis.

In other states, the statute of limitations may be as many as six years. However, two years is the most common among the states’ statute of limitations laws for personal injury cases.

You should speak to a Roundup lawsuit attorney to discuss your case’s specifics before you decide your deadline to file a claim has elapsed.

Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the liable party will pay for a settlement or trial award. Typically, the liable party is the liable party’s insurance company that will pay. However, in the case they are uninsured, then they are personally responsible for paying when the plaintiff reaches a favorable resolution to the claim and are due compensation from the wrongful death lawsuit.

Can a Minor File a Lawsuit?

Since a minor is legally not considered an adult and does not have the mental capacity to decide to file a lawsuit on their own. They are required to have the help of a representative who is legally allowed to file a claim for them, including:

  • Parent
  • Legal guardian
  • Court-appointed representative.

What to Wear to a Lawsuit Mediation?

The dress code for a lawsuit mediation can vary depending on the specific mediation center, the mediator, and the type of case.

In general, however, it is a good idea to dress in professional attire for a lawsuit mediation, as you would for a court appearance or other formal business meeting.

For men, this may mean wearing a suit, dress shirt, and tie. Avoid wearing casual clothing such as jeans, t-shirts, or sneakers.

Professional attire may include a suit or business dress with appropriate shoes and accessories for women. Avoid wearing revealing or overly casual clothing such as shorts, flip-flops, or tank tops.

It is important to remember that a lawsuit mediation is a formal legal proceeding, and the way you dress can affect the way you are perceived by others, including the mediator and the opposing party.

By dressing in professional attire, you can demonstrate that you take the process seriously and are prepared to conduct yourself in a respectful and professional manner.

How to Fight a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

If you are accused of hurting someone else and facing a personal injury lawsuit, here are some ways to proceed with a lawsuit and protect your interests:

  • Hire an experienced personal injury defense attorney: An attorney who specializes in defending personal injury lawsuits can help you understand your legal rights & options and develop a strategy for fighting the lawsuit. Your attorney can also handle negotiations with the plaintiff’s attorney and represent you in court if necessary.
  • Gather evidence: In order to build a strong defense, it is crucial to gather all relevant evidence related to the incident, including:
    • Witness statements
    • Photographs
    • Medical records
    • Any other documentation related to the incident.
    • Your lawyer can help you gather and organize this evidence to support your defense. As the personal injury lawsuit progresses, you and your attorney must weigh your options while working to weaken the plaintiff’s argument against you.
  •  Challenge the plaintiff’s claims: In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff will generally need to prove that you were responsible for their injuries or damages. Your attorney can challenge the plaintiff’s claims by presenting evidence that disputes their version of events or by arguing that your actions did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Consider settlement negotiations: In some cases, settling the lawsuit out of court may be possible through negotiations with the plaintiff’s attorney and might be your best option. Your attorney can help you determine whether a settlement demand is fair and reasonable and negotiate to reach a favorable outcome on your behalf.
  • Prepare for trial: If the lawsuit proceeds to trial, your attorney can help you prepare your defense and present your case to the court. This may include preparing witnesses, presenting evidence, and cross-examining the plaintiff themselves and the plaintiff’s witnesses.

Will Filing for Bankruptcy Stop a Civil Lawsuit?

Filing for bankruptcy can have an automatic stay effect on most civil lawsuits, which means that the lawsuit is temporarily halted or put on hold. The automatic stay is a type of injunction against creditors and can provide immediate relief for the debtor.

It prevents the creditors from taking any collection action while the bankruptcy proceedings are ongoing.

However, there are some exceptions to the automatic stay rule. For example, some types of lawsuits, such as criminal cases, are not affected by the automatic stay.

Also, certain types of civil lawsuits may not be subject to the automatic stay, such as cases involving child support, spousal support, or the enforcement of a government fine or penalty.

Can You Sell a Business With a Pending Lawsuit?

Yes, selling a business with a pending lawsuit is possible, but it can be a complex process. The potential buyer in the merger and acquisition will want to assess the risks associated with the lawsuit and may request additional information for due diligence to understand the lawsuit’s potential impact on the business.

If the lawsuit is material to the business, the seller may need to disclose the pending lawsuit to the buyer as part of the sale process.

This can impact the value of the business and may require additional negotiations between the buyer and seller to reach a mutually agreeable price.

It is essential for both the buyer and seller to have legal representation to navigate the sale of a business, even more so with a pending lawsuit.

An experienced M&A attorney can help identify potential risks and liabilities associated with the lawsuit, negotiate the terms of the sale, and provide guidance on how to proceed with the lawsuit after the sale is completed.


Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: March 18, 2024 9:56am CDT