Starting a civil lawsuit

What is a civil lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit is a court-based process involving a legal dispute between two or more parties. The intent of a civil lawsuit is to hold another party liable for some type of harm or wrongful act. If the party filing the lawsuit is successful, he or she will usually be awarded compensation for the harm that resulted from the other party's action or inaction.

Civil law applies when a person, business, or other entity sues another person, business, or other entity. Criminal laws are the rules that apply when someone commits a crime. Read more about civil and criminal cases at and the State Court website.

General information about civil lawsuits

Before you file a lawsuit, you want to consider two things. First, do you have a legal right to sue. What law or rules were broken? Second, you also want to think about damages. What remedy do you want from the court, are you entitled to it, and how will you prove the amount of damages?

Lawsuits are governed by state and local court rules. Court rules contain procedural and other information and apply to every case. See the Court rules page for more information.

Superior Court Local Rule LCR 40 “Assignment of Cases” requires many cases to have a court-ordered case scheduling order. If your type of case meets the requirement, you must file a Case Assignment to Judicial Department form when you file your case.

Free eBook about representing yourself in court

Represent Yourself in Court book cover

How to find the eBook about representing yourself in court

Chapter 3 pertains to starting your case (pages 54-64 pertain to jurisdiction)

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Deciding where to file a civil lawsuit

Civil lawsuits can be filed in District Court or Superior Court. The jurisdiction of each court (what cases they are allowed to hear) is set by statute. The jurisdiction of the District Court is in RCW Section 3.66.020 and includes cases for up to $100,000. The jurisdiction of the Superior Court is in RCW Section 2.08.010 and includes all cases in equity and cases at law that are specified in the statute.

Small Claims is part of District Court. It offers a cheaper, faster, and simpler process for smaller cases when you are suing only for money. See the Small Claims page for more information.

Venue means filing your case in the right geographic place. Venue is generally determined by where the person being sued resides or where an event took place. More about venue is in RCW Chapter 4.12.

More information about jurisdiction and venue is available from Justia. Washington LawHelp has information about jurisdiction in custody cases.

Self-help kit from the law library

self-help form kits

The law library sells a Start a Civil Lawsuit in Superior Court self-help kit with forms and instructions to start a civil lawsuit in Superior Court against a person. It does not cover procedures after the initial filing and is not intended for District Court. Kits can be purchased at the library or online and mailed out.

Formatting court documents