A criminal lawsuit involves someone being charged for a crime and getting prosecuted by the government. All other types of lawsuits fall under civil litigation. This far-ranging category includes lawsuits related to breach of contract, divorce, debt, and personal injury, as well as cases filed against government bodies. Incidentally, just about all civil litigation cases follow a similar process.
Filing a Complaint/Pleading
The civil litigation process gets underway after a plaintiff (complainant) files a complaint with a court and the court serves a copy of the complaint to the defendant. In the complaint, the plaintiff needs to describe how the defendant caused damage or injury, and the legal basis that might hold the defendant liable.
At this stage, a defendant gets a stipulated time period to file a reply. This reply needs to provide the defendant’s side of the story. A defendant also has the option of filing a counterclaim, which basically indicates that the plaintiff is responsible for causing harm to the defendant. If there are factual misrepresentations in a complaint, a defendant may ask the court to dismiss the suit – partially or in totality.
Civil litigation cases moves to the discovery phase after both parties complete the pleading process. This is when they start gathering all the information that can help strengthen their case. In some cases, both parties might choose to resolve the dispute at this stage. If not, this can be the longest part of a civil suit. The discovery stage involves gathering information through requests for documents, written questions, and depositions.
Both parties start preparing for trial during this stage. This is when they need to get their witnesses and evidence in order. In some cases, settlement discussions might take place during pre-trial. Either party may also file motions to narrow down on issues pertaining to the trial or even to resolve the case.
The trial process begins after both parties file their briefs, which put forth their arguments and include information about witnesses. Civil litigation cases might be heard by a judge or a jury. Depending on the specifics of a case, a trial can end in a day or go on for months. It is during this stage that both parties present their witnesses, and the opposing parties get an opportunity to cross examine. The trial phase ends after both parties present their closing statements.
The jury or the judge responsible for adjudication of your case goes through all the evidence at hand and announces a verdict in line with applicable laws. A party has the right to challenge the verdict or file a motion for a new trial. Disregard of evidence or law are cited as common reasons when challenging jury verdicts.
At the end of a civil litigation lawsuit, a party that is dissatisfied with the ruling may choose to file an appeal. This involves asking a higher court to review the lawsuit. Both parties need to submit brief arguments as well as evidence records from the trial court to the appellate court. Bear in mind that that latter looks for no more than legal discrepancies. Appellate courts review factual evidence only under highly unusual circumstances. In case an appellate court finds an error, it may order a retrial or reverse the previous verdict. If no error is found, the court reaffirms the original verdict.
Having to deal with a civil litigation lawsuit can be daunting, which is why taking an attorney’s advice at the very beginning is in your best interest. For starters, you attorney can weigh in the merits of the case and let you know just how good a chance you stand. Then, you may leave all the hard work of collecting evidence and interviewing people up to your attorney. If the case ends up going to trial, you may also expect your attorney to represent you in court.