Litigation 101: The Basics of Contesting Matters in Court

Frequently Asked Question


1. What is litigation?

Litigation may generally be defined as a contest in court in order to enforce a right. Simply put, it is a lawsuit brought to recover monetary damages, require the performance of an act, cease performance of an act, or, in the case of criminal cases, seek to impose a penalty for violation of a law.

2. How does litigation begin?

Litigation begins with the filing of a written document, called a “complaint” against one or more “defendants.” This takes place in a court which has the power to obtain jurisdiction over the parties to the dispute. This determination depends on the nature of the dispute, the amount of money at issue, and the residence of the parties.

3. Does litigation require me to hire a lawyer?

Maybe. While everyone has a right to represent themselves, it is almost always a good idea to consult a lawyer to determine if this is a wise approach. The exception would be a small claim of perhaps a few hundred dollars or less. Otherwise, an early consultation with a lawyer can help you understand your options and allow you to make an intelligent choice of how to proceed. In any significant legal matter you should have a lawyer.

4. What must I do if I am sued?

Under Ohio law, a complaint and “summons” delivered to you requires that action be taken in the near future. A written response called an “answer” must generally be filed within 28 days of receipt of the complaint. There are exceptions to this, depending on the facts of each case, however. Failure to file a written response within the appropriate time limit may result in a default and a judgment being rendered against you.

5. Are there courts for minor claims?

Claims of $3,000 or less often may be filed in small claims court. The clerk of the appropriate court can provide the necessary fee schedule. For amounts over $3,000, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer. There are mandatory rules, the noncompliance of which may prevent recovery. A lawyer can help you decide whether you want to proceed with or without a lawyer based upon the facts of your case.