Steps Involved In a Lawsuit
Among the most common types of lawsuits are criminal and civil. Criminal suits are those brought by policing agencies as the result of the commission of a crime, Civil lawsuits are usually between individuals or companies seeking to rectify a private problem, i.e., collection of money owed, or personal injury suits. There are definite paths, which a lawsuit must follow. Each case is subject to applicable state or federal court rules. Those rules must be followed or the case risks dismissal. The following discussion takes you through the basic litigation process. (To assist you, basic terms are defined at the end of this document.) Each state has its own procedural rules, but the basic procedure is as follows:
1. The Complaint is filed with the clerk of the court.
2. Service of process of all initial documents is made upon the defendant(s). (See definition of “service of process.”)
3. The Answer is filed by the defendant(s) OR a Motion to Dismiss is filed. If a Motion to Dismiss is filed, a response brief and reply brief are filed. The court will rule on the Motion to Dismiss. If the Motion to Dismiss is granted, the case is dismissed. If the Motion to Dismiss is not granted, the case proceeds.
4. After an Answer is filed, the discovery process begins. This includes Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, Requests for Admission, and depositions.
5. At some time after the discovery process, the case will be set for trial. The date of trial will determine other important deadlines. Please understand that the Court sets the date of trial, not your attorney.
6. After discovery, a motion for summary judgment may be filed, A motion for summary judgment requests that the court review the relevant law and determine if specific issues (or all issues) should be dismissed by the court. A response brief and reply brief will also be filed. If the court determines that summary judgment is appropriate, the specific issues will be dismissed from the case and, in some instances, the entire case will be dismissed.
7. A pretrial order will be filed after the discovery process has been completed. This document details to the court the issues of the case, the disputes of the parties, the status of the case, anticipated witnesses and exhibits for the trial, as well as other information useful to the court.
8. At the conclusion of the trial, either the jury or the court will determine the outcome of the case, and, a judgment will be entered in the records of the court.
9. Either party can appeal the case if they are dissatisfied with its outcome and there are appealable issues. The attorney can advise you on any appealable issues. There are specific timeframes within which an appeal must be filed or it will not be considered by the appellate court.
10. If the judgment is not voluntarily paid, a Fi Fa (executable judgment) can be obtained from the court. A Fi Fa can be used in various ways to insure payment of the judgment. Your attorney can advise you on specific collection procedures. Once the judgment has been paid, a satisfaction of judgment will be filed. Please understand that collection of a Judgment is outside the scope of most engagement agreements and often requires a separate law firm or Engagement Agreement.
11. At any time during this case progression, a settlement can be voluntarily reached between the parties and the case dismissed.
This information included is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.