What Happens In A Lawsuit?
Family Law Attorney in Coeur d’Alene
There are many roles you could be called upon to play in a lawsuit. You could be the plaintiff, filing the lawsuit against another party. You could be the defendant, being sued for damages by someone else. You could be a witness to an event, or an expert witness regarding some aspect of a case. Regardless of your role, if you find yourself involved in some fashion in a lawsuit, there are events that can occur that can be tedious or wearisome or both. Much of what happens in a lawsuit is out of your control. This article gives you a brief overview of some of the common occurrences in a lawsuit, but only an experienced family law attorney can give you advice on your specific case.
Most cases begin when you file a complaint with the court. This complaint – usually put together by a lawyer – and a summons from the court are then served on the defendant. In some states, the case doesn’t begin until the defendant is served the summons and complaint, and, in some of these cases, this can take quite some time. Generally, the plaintiff or anyone related to the case cannot serve the summons and complaint to the defendant; it must be done by a third party, such as a process server, law enforcement, or someone else the plaintiff hires or gets to serve the summons.
Once the summons is served, the defendant has a specific amount of time – about 3 weeks, in most cases – to answer the summons. In the answer, the defendant will reply to what is said in the complaint on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, either admitting to the content of the paragraph, denying what is said in the paragraph, or by stating that he or she doesn’t know enough about the statements to either admit or deny what’s said there. The answer may also contain any claims the defendant has against the plaintiff or another party regarding the case. If the complaint goes unanswered by the defendant, a default judgment may be entered against the defendant, meaning that the defendant may be bound by decisions of the court even though he or she did not participate.
All those involved in the case will show each other documents and information that pertain to the case. This process is called “discovery.” For those who are being called as witnesses to either side, the discovery phase of a lawsuit will be the first time they have anything to do with the proceedings. If you have a legal reason why you cannot participate in discovery as a witness, contact an attorney as soon as possible.
At this stage, those involved in the case have opportunities to resolve their disputes out of court in processes such as arbitration, negotiation, or mediation. Some contracts will require binding arbitration, and some states and the federal courts require that all parties involved in civil litigation proceedings attend some form of dispute resolution. If, during the course of arbitration or other out of court resolutions, you reach a settlement with the other party, the court will not get involved, or will only be involved unofficially. In most cases, the court doesn’t need to get involved in an out of court settlement unless the case is a class action, one of the participants is a minor, or in cases where very rare circumstances arise.
The majority of the time, there are portions of the case that will be taken care of through motions. Motions can be difficult for those not familiar with the law to understand, and an experienced attorney can walk you through what motions might come about in the course of your case. Essentially, though, motions are parts of the case that are not contested; that is, all the parties agree as to what happened or the law determines the situation. Motions can take a lot of time, however, and often cost a lot of money.
If, after dispute resolutions, the parties cannot agree or motions cannot take care of the issues, then the case goes to trial. In the majority of civil lawsuits, the decision to have a jury can be decided by either party, and it is an important decision to make. An attorney will be able to weigh the pros and cons of having a jury, and explain the possible outcomes with a jury and without one.
When and if the case goes to trial – most cases are resolved before they ever go to trial – either the attorneys in the case or the parties (if they are not represented) will present evidence to the judge and/or jury. If you’re a third party to a lawsuit – like a witness – the trial phase is the next time you’ll get involved in the case. If you are called to testify, you will receive a subpoena. After all the evidence has been presented and all arguments are heard, the jury (or, in some cases, a judge) will deliberate and decide on the case. A judgment, if any, will be entered.
Either party – or both – has the right to appeal the judge’s decision. It should be noted that it is very rare for a judge’s decision to be overturned in an appeal. Appeals only go over legal aspects of the case. No new evidence or testimony can be heard. Settlements where both parties agreed to the terms also cannot be appealed.
The duration for a civil case varies as much as the reasons for filing a case do. It could take six months, or it could be years before the case is resolved. If you are a witness, you might be called to testify three months after an event or years afterward.
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