For many people, dealing with the nuances of a courtroom sounds like a headache waiting to happen, even if you desperately want to prove your case. A large portion of this comes from a lack of understanding around the general process involved with filing a lawsuit.
By breaking down what exactly a lawsuit is, and the different stages associated with the process, a person can feel more comfortable with what that process may look like. From there, they can contact an accredited attorney who can help them build out the specific details of their case. Don’t hesitate to learn how to defend yourself in court.
Civil vs. Criminal Lawsuits: What is the Difference?
For those unfamiliar with the term, a lawsuit simply refers to a legal action or filing taken by one person or group against another person or group, with a resolution to be decided in a court of law. Traditionally, there are two forms of lawsuits that a party can choose to file: civil or criminal. Criminal lawsuits are distinct in that they occur when a person is charged with a crime. This is then prosecuted by the government, rather than a party, which makes it unique.
On the other side of things, a civil lawsuit is the traditional type where the plaintiff and defendant are two parties, rather than a prosecuting government representative. Civil lawsuits can range from contract law, personal injury law, family law, marriage law, and much more. In a civil lawsuit, a jury may or may not be involved depending on the specific case.
The Eight Stages Involved with Filing a Lawsuit
Understanding what a lawsuit is only acts as the tip of the iceberg. There are eight general steps which occur during the process of a lawsuit, ranging all the way from understanding limitations of process servers all the way to the verdict. These steps include:
The Initial Complaint
The first step of any lawsuit is the official complaint that a plaintiff files with the court. This document outlines the very basis of the lawsuit and the request that the plaintiff is making. Essentially, this request simply outlines how much they believe they are owed by the defendant of the case due to what occurred.
The Initial Answer
Following the initial complaint, the defendant will have time to answer the complaint with their own response. This occurs after the papers have been served and they have been requested to appear in court, where they will inform the court how they answer the complaint.
The Scheduling Order
Once the defendant has filed their official answer to the complaint with the court, a judge will issue something that is known as a scheduling order. All this refers to is a document which outlines key deadlines and dates that relate to the case which is being presented. Some of these deadlines may include the date for when to file documents with the court, and it will also include the actual date that the trial will occur.
During the discovery process, both sides in the case will have the chance to exchange relevant information, evidence, and more with each other ahead of the trial. In the majority of situations, this process is governed by state or federal procedures. In certain situations, the judge may be called in to settle disputes between the parties in terms of information sharing.
The trial will typically occur after this point, with all of the aforementioned evidence being present to either the judge or a jury.
Potential Motions or Pleadings
At various points throughout and during the trial, there may be opportunities to file motions or certain pleadings. Motions could include motions to dismiss the case which are filed by the defendant, motions for summary of judgements that can be filed by either party, or even offers of settlement through mediation.
Should a case be determined to fall under the scope of a jury trial, the selection of jurors will occur before the trial actually begins. At this stage, random potential jurors will be selected to come to the court room and be questioned by lawyers on both sides. Depending on the state you are in, a certain number of jurors will be selected after being approved by both sides.
The Verdict and The Preliminary Injunction
After the jurors are selected and the trial is complete, a verdict will be rendered by either the jurors or the judge. This verdict will be binding and will be used as the focal point for when the judge determines what the losing party must do. Following this, the stage of preliminary injunction will occur, in which the judge will order the losing party to do something. For example, the judge may order the defendant to pay the plaintiff the requested amount of money.
The Appeal Process
Finally, at the end of any lawsuit there is the possibility of appealing the results of a trial, whether that be by judge or jury. This process involves appealing to a higher court and requesting that court to examine the verdict rendered by the lower court and requesting them to reverse the decision. They do not hold new trials that contain witnesses or evidence, but the courts of appeals will examine the case and decision by the lower court if they so choose. In state courts, they are not obligated to review cases.
Defend yourself with the help of an attorney
There’s nothing wrong with getting frustrated with the nuances of the U.S. legal system due to their complexities. Make no mistake that even a simple lawsuit can take a fair amount of time to resolve, however the end results are more than worth it if the purpose is to make you whole. Don’t second guess reaching out to an accredited attorney in your area who can help you build your case against the person or organization who you would like to sue.