When potential clients contact us with a potential legal issue, we help guide them and give them all of their options. Filing a lawsuit should never be taken lightly. However, if someone has injured you or impaired your rights, filing a lawsuit may be the only chance to make you whole again or hold a wrongdoer accountable.
After you’ve hired a lawyer and they’ve agreed to file a lawsuit on your behalf, the litigation process will begin.
Filing the lawsuit
First, your attorney will gather the facts and evidence necessary to file your lawsuit. The complaint or petition is the first document filed by your attorney that lays out your claims and the damages sought. The person bringing the lawsuit is called the Plaintiff. The person or company being sued is the Defendant. Once the complaint is drafted, your attorney will file it in the court where your case will be heard.
Next, the Defendant will file an answer to the lawsuit. The Defendant will state their defenses and offer a glimpse at their side of the story. In the initial pleading by the Defendant, they may also seek to dismiss the lawsuit on some preliminary grounds.
Following the Defendant’s early filings, discovery usually begins. Discovery is the fact-finding stage of the litigation. Parties will exchange documents and answer written questions. Documents from third parties, such as medical providers or banks, may also be sought.
The Plaintiff and Defendant will also be deposed. Depositions are where the other side’s attorney gets to ask questions to the Plaintiff or Defendant in person and under oath. This is the first stage where the Plaintiff gets to tell their side of the story and how they have been impacted. Witnesses may also be deposed and can provide greater insight as to what happened.
After discovery, the parties may file case dispositive motions. These are motions such as summary judgment motions that, if granted by the judge, would allow one party to win the case or an issue before it gets to a trial. For these motions, the parties present evidence and the judge makes a decision.
The Plaintiff and Defendant will likely discuss the possibility of settling the case one or more times prior to the next step—trial. Once some discovery has taken place, the parties have more information that may allow them to see the other side’s position. Sometimes a mediator is engaged to help the parties resolve the case. The parties weigh the risks of litigation, consider the facts, and review settlement offers to determine what the case is worth. Most civil cases—over 95%– in this country settle prior to trial.
The next step is trial. Trial is what most people have in their mind when they think about lawsuits. This is the stage where both sides put on their side of the case. It can be in front of a judge or jury. Evidence and testimony are offered. Ultimately, the judge or jury makes a determination and awards damages to the Plaintiff, if appropriate.
After this process is over, the losing party can seek an appeal. This is where a higher court reviews the case to see if there were errors. If there is an appeal, the case is not final until the last appeal has been exhausted.
The process of filing a suit and engaging in litigation can be long. However, a good attorney will help guide you through the process. Protecting your interests and holding a wrongdoer accountable is important. In the end, filing a lawsuit and going to trial may be your only chance to tell your story and recover the damages you deserve.