A lawsuit is a lengthy and demanding process for both parties. Whether you are suing or being sued, the activity has to follow certain procedures: pleadings, discovery, trial, and in some cases, appeal. It is important to know that parties to any lawsuit can decide to end the process at anytime through an out-of-court settlement.
Parties to a lawsuit first file pleadings with the court to explain their side of the disagreement. The one suing files a complaint and sends a copy to the accused. Since court filing is a complex process, the plaintiff should hire an experienced law firm to execute the action.
The defendant is then given a specific amount of time to respond to the plaintiff's accusations. The defendant has three options: he or she can reply by giving their side of the story, file a counter-claim against the plaintiff, or ask the plaintiff to correct deficiencies in the stated allegations. The defendant can also ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit because the allegations are false. Once the complaint and reply have been filed, the issues for resolution by the justice have been defined, and the lawsuit can go through the next process.
Here, the parties collect as much relevant information as possible. They can gather the data from each other or from third parties. Depending on the issues raised by the lawsuit, this phase can include interviews from witnesses and the review of various personal documents.
This is the longest process in the lawsuit because it starts after the complaint is filed and continues until the trial date. Discovery allows the gathering of evidence through interrogatories or written questions, requests of document copies, and admission requests. The information is also collected through witness interviews conducted under oath and in the presence of a court reporter.
There is a unique category of interviewees known as expert witnesses. If one party needs expert opinion to back their arguments, they may bring in an expert witness. Examples of expert witnesses include medical professionals and engineers.
During discovery, parties may ask the court to make a ruling on a certain action through motions. For example, a motion of summary judgment may beg the court to dismiss part or all of the plaintiff's case without going to trial. Other motions may request the court to forbid the use of certain documents for evidence.
During trial, both parties to the case present evidence in support of their arguments to the judge and jury. However, before the trial begins, the lawyers of both parties present a brief to the judge. The document gives an account of the evidence and arguments to be used in the trial.
If the case involves jurors, both parties will participate in the initial selection process before the trial begins. The trial usually starts with an opening statement from both parties. The statement gives the audience an outline of the entire case. The plaintiff then presents evidence in the form of documents, may call a witness, and argues his or her case. After that, the defendant does the same. In some instances, the plaintiff may rebut the defendant's argument with additional evidence.
Once both parties have presented their arguments, they give their respective closing arguments. The court then tells the jury which law to apply on the evidence, before allowing them to deliberate the case and agree on a verdict behind closed doors.
Once the verdict has been made, either party can challenge it on the basis of errors committed by the trial chambers or failure by the jury to use all the evidence. The party challenging the verdict can either file a motion of judgment notwithstanding to have the court overturn the verdict or file a motion for a new trial to argue the case once more.
If a party is not satisfied with the decision, they can take the matter to an appellate court. It is important to know that the appellate court mostly looks for legal errors in the trial court's verdict. The appellate court will not review any factual evidence used in the trial court.