How to File a Civil Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

How to File a Civil Lawsuit in Pennsylvania


Thank you for visiting lawsuitforms.org!  In this article, we will go over the basics of how to file a civil lawsuit in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas (Pennsylvania’s general trial court) without an attorney.  As you will see, the basics of filing a lawsuit in Pennsylvania are not nearly as complicated as they first seem.  

Drafting the Complaint

As with most other states, filing a complaint is the first step to beginning a lawsuit in Pennsylvania.  This is the document in which you lay out the allegations against the defendant and allege how you have been harmed.  Keep in mind that you do not need to try and prove your allegations in the complaint.  You are only alleging what happened.  Of course, to ultimately prevail at trial, you will definitely need to offer evidence that supports the claims you initially make in your complaint.

However, simply alleging that you have been harmed is not quite enough.  You must allege a type of harm that Pennsylvania specifically recognizes as a recoverable claim for relief.  For example, if you trip on the sidewalk you cannot necessarily sue the city for your damages.  The plaintiff will need to allege that the city (or someone else) was negligent in some manner.  Perhaps the sidewalk was in a poor state of disrepair.  In that case, they can likely allege that the city had a duty to keep the sidewalks in good condition, they failed to perform that duty, and as a direct result of that failure, the plaintiff was injured.  Each specific aspect of a claim for relief (sometimes called a ‘cause of action’ is known as an ‘element’ of a claim.  If a Plaintiff can prove each element of their claim, they should win their case.  Similarly, if a plaintiff has been physically attacked by someone, they can probably bring a civil lawsuit for battery if they can allege that the person physically contacted them and they suffered harm as a result of that physical contact.

The elements used above are general examples only!  A plaintiff needs to research the individual elements of any and all claims they wish to bring against a defendant and make sure they properly allege facts that, if proven, will satisfy each element of their claim (the best place to research elements of specific claims is your local law library).

Some examples of common claims for relief in Pennsylvania are:

  • Breach of Contract
  • Negligence
  • Unpaid Wages
  • Wrongful Termination
  • Race/Sex Discrimination
  • Disability Discrimination
  • Battery
  • Trespass
  • Nuisance
  • Defamation (slander/libel)

Once the elements of a claim are known, they need to be written up in a complaint.  Most complaints in Pennsylvania have the following format:

  1. Heading with basic information about the case.
  2. A ‘Notice to Defend’.
  3. The title, listing of the parties, and a statement of jurisdiction with an arbitration notice, if appropriate (these should all be on a separate page from the Notice to Defend).
  4. ‘Facts Alleged’, wherein the plaintiff alleges all the facts that constitute the elements of their claim.
  5. ‘Claims for Relief’ where the plaintiff states how the allegations, if proven, will constitute a legally cognizable claim (such as negligence, or battery).
  6. ‘Demand for Relief’, where the plaintiff asks the court to award a specific remedy, such as economic or non-economic damages.
  7. A Statement of Verification.

Filing and Serving the Complaint

Once the complaint has been drafted, the plaintiff will need to file it at the appropriate courthouse and pay the applicable filing fee.  If a plaintiff has limited financial means, they may be able to qualify for a fee waiver/deferral and can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver application.  Once the complaint has been filed, it will need to be served on the defendant.

Once served, the defendant will have a certain amount of time to respond by filing an ‘Answer’ to the complaint.  After an answer has been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other.  These disclosures are made by each party sending the other a ‘Request for Production of Documents’ asking for specific documents that are relevant to the case.


This is just a brief outline of how to file a civil lawsuit in Pennsylvania.  Of course, the details of any specific case will be slightly more complicated, but as you can see, the basic nuts and bolts of how to file a Pennsylvania complaint are well within the grasp of the average person.  Anyone can learn how to file a lawsuit without an attorney.  Our Pennsylvania Civil Complaint form packet includes more detailed instructions, as well as templates and samples.  Follow the link above or click the 'Buy Now' button at the top of this page to purchase the form packet.   Thank you for reading!