If you’ve exhausted all of your other options, and can’t find a resolution to your problem, it may be time to file a lawsuit. No one wants to file a lawsuit; but, sometimes it’s the only way to vindicate your rights.
WHAT IS CIVIL LITIGATION?
There are only two types of lawsuits: criminal and civil. If you want to want to sue someone for money, or to make them do something (this is called ‘specific performance’), you will file a civil lawsuit.
Since civil litigation often results in a trial, civil litigation attorneys are often called trial attorneys. Your particular case may not go to trial; but, if it does, we are prepared to defend your interests with the utmost intensity.
WHAT IS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
Every civil case is time-sensitive: a ‘statute of limitations’ is attached to it. That means that you can only file your lawsuit within a specific period of time after the events you wish to sue over. If you do not file your case within the statute of limitations period, you may lose the right to sue. If you do not know what the statute of limitations is for your particular case, you should contact us immediately, in order to preserve your right to file a lawsuit.
HOW DOES A LAWSUIT PROGRESS?
There are many stages to a lawsuit; though, not every lawsuit goes to trial. Many ‘settle’ before that stage. A ‘settlement’ means that the parties to the lawsuit have come to an agreement without the further intervention of the court system. A settlement may occur at any point before a judge issues a decision, which may result in a ‘judgment’ ordering one party to pay money or to do something.
GETTING THE FACTS
There are a number of stages in a civil litigation matter. At the outset of the lawyer-client engagement (which occurs once you sign a fee agreement to work with our firm), your attorney will interview you, to get information about the facts of your case. The attorney will also potentially investigate the matter independently, if it is warranted. The attorney will research your case, and discuss with you a case strategy, as well as potential outcomes. You will use that information to help your attorney to make decisions about how to proceed with your lawsuit.
Prior to filing a lawsuit, your attorney may draft and send a ‘demand letter’ to the party, or person, you are suing. The demand letter will ask the person or business you are suing to do something or to pay a sum of money, in order to avoid litigation. Sometimes, the party will agree to the demand made in the letter; but, sometimes the party will not agree, in which case you and your lawyer will decide whether or not to file a lawsuit. A demand letter does not obligate you to sue; and, you will have input into the terms included in the demand letter.
FILING A LAWSUIT
If litigation cannot be avoided, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf. Before a trial is held, our attorneys will file a ‘complaint’, which is a recitation of the facts of your case, along with your specific demand for ‘relief’. A request for ‘relief’ is what you are asking the court to do for you.
From there, ‘pleadings’, or documents that your attorney will write and file for you, will address the arguments the other side makes against you in the papers it files, or will focus on additional requests you make of the court. In certain instances, a case can be decided ‘on the motions’. That means that the judge has determined that he or she can make a decision based only on the documents filed.
A lawsuit will likely also include what is called the ‘discovery process’, during which the attorneys on either side ask each other for information, in a variety of ways.
‘Interrogatories’ are questions that the other lawyer wants you to answer, or questions that we want the person you are suing to answer.
‘Depositions’ are in-person or virtual meetings, in which you will be asked direct questions by the lawyer on the other side, or in which we will ask the person you are suing direct questions.
There may also be requests for documents, or other physical information.
In the modern context, much of the information requested is electronic (like emails and social media posts). The process of gathering electronic information is called ‘eDiscovery’.
Your attorney will assist you throughout this process, helping you to answer questions and to collect information. Your attorney will attend any depositions, and will help you to determine when and how you should answer the questions asked of you.
The discovery process can be time-consuming; but, it is the traditional way in which lawyers ask for and receive information from the other party in a litigation matter.
During the ‘pre-trial’ period, or the time frame just before a trial is about to begin, your attorney will finalize any outstanding discovery matters. Your attorney will also file any final pleadings, known at this stage as ‘pre-trial motions’.
At this point, your lawyer will begin to prepare you for trial. Your lawyer will alert you to questions the other side may ask, will help you to practice your answers and will finalize the case strategy, with your input, that will represent what you will ask the court to do for you, and what questions you will ask the other side.
Depending on the complexity of your case, your attorney may suggest that you bring in ‘expert witnesses’, who can testify to specific matters at issue that are especially complicated.
If a settlement is not reached prior to the start of a trial, your case will proceed to trial. Trials last anywhere from a single day to months and years, depending on the issues involved. There is no way to guarantee the length of a trial.
At trial, you will be asked to tell your story, or to ‘testify’. Your lawyer will ask you questions, to help you along; but, the attorney on the other side will be allowed to ask you additional questions. That process is called ‘cross examination’. Your lawyer will have helped you to understand what to expect from the other side’s ‘cross examination’, and will make objections to questions that your lawyer deems inappropriate.
A settlement could still be reached at any time during the trial process; but, if it is not, a decision will be reached by the court. The decision will be made by either the judge or the jury — regular people called on to hear the evidence and reach a judgment.
You and your attorney will discuss whether a judge-only or a jury trial is more favorable for your particular case. You and your attorney will have input in selecting specific jury members from a larger pool. Keep in mind that the attorney for the other side is likely to disagree with your attorney’s arguments about jury selection, and potentially with regard to the question of a trial by judge or a trial by jury.
After all of the witnesses have testified, and after all of the evidence has been heard, the judge or jury will make a decision. It is at that point that the court will order you or the person you are suing to pay money or to do a specific thing. If the ‘judgment’ is for a monetary amount, that monetary amount will then have to be collected.
Following a trial, either side may ‘appeal’, or formally disagree with, the decision the court makes.
There are sometimes different courts for different matters — for example, some courts deal only with business issues. Depending on the type of court, and the stage of appeal, there will be a specific time frame in which the losing party must make its formal request for the ‘higher court’ to review the decision of the lower court.
If the losing party does not file its appeal on time, it will not be able to formally complain of the decision, unless the losing party can show a compelling reason for its delay.
The appeals process is usually longer than the trial process; and, depending upon your case, there may be many levels of appeals to get through before a final resolution is achieved. In some cases, a party may have to participate in hearings through an administrative agency before being able to file a lawsuit through the court system in the first place.
HOW WE CAN HELP
If you’ve never filed a lawsuit before, navigating the court system can seem overwhelming; and, even if you have been involved in litigation before, every case is different.
Our attorneys are experienced civil litigators, who will seek a resolution before trial, but who can build and execute an effective trial strategy, if necessary.
Because litigation is so complex, we work with you, hand-in-hand, to manage every aspect of the civil litigation process.
If it’s time for you to file a lawsuit, and you want the right partner to walk you through each stage of litigation that that lawsuit requires, call us today, and we will match you with one of our experienced litigation attorneys.