Going to trial is a complicated and demanding process. A civil lawsuit comes from a dispute between people, businesses, or other entities including governments but does is not the same as a criminal lawsuit. A criminal lawsuit consists of a person being charged with a crime and then the government prosecuting that person. A civil lawsuit is far more expansive.
In this article, we will help you understand how a civil lawsuit actually works. This can save you time, money, and protect your mental health simply by understanding the journey ahead and how to protect your legal rights.
No one wants to go to trial
The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to compensate victims for their suffered losses at the hands of another, such as a person, group, company, or government. The recompense is generally paid from the defendant to the plaintiff. The typical breakdown of a civil lawsuit can look like this:
- Plaintiff files a complaint to begin a lawsuit
- Defendant files an answer to the complaint
- Judge issues a scheduling order organizing the timeline for important events such as deadlines and dates
- Parties engage in sharing important information (such as documents, testimony, etc.) known as “discovery”
- Motions or other possible pleadings are filed
- Jury is selected, if necessary
- Judge or Jury gives decision
- Either party may accept or appeal decision
While this may be the basic structure of a civil lawsuit, it does not always unfold in this simple, direct, and easy to grasp schedule.
In reality, most cases settle long before they reach trial. Trial is a long, expensive, and demanding experience with most parties hoping to figure out a solution before the argument ever reaches the inside of the courtroom.
Pleadings are the initial formal written documents within the framework of the civil lawsuit. They explain the dispute from each side's perspective and most often become part of the public record. They can often look like a complaint followed by an answer.
The complaint is the formal document filed by the prosecution and is formally delivered to the defendant. It explains the description of events and outlines how the defendant caused harm to the plaintiff. The complaint is incredibly important for establishing the legal basis for holding the defendant responsible.
The answer works as the defense's response to the plaintiff's complaint. It tries to disprove the complaint through the details of the event(s) in question, outline inaccuracies, point out any falsehoods, or even give the defendant the chance for a counter-claim on how the plaintiff caused harm to the defendant.
The guidelines of pleadings follow four fundamental rules that help explain a particular lawsuit's foundations:
- Pleadings state facts, not law
- Facts should be material (i.e., significant and recognizable) facts
- Pleadings do not use or state evidence
- Pleadings are meant to be concise
Discovery can be considered case preparation. You wouldn't jump into an exam without studying, nor would you start a trial without doing your homework. Preparation is key to any successful litigation and the discovery is when both parties gather relevant information from each other, as well as outside sources.
Outside sources that can help a discovery include:
- Law research
- Document reviews
- Document organization
- Witness interviews
- Expert witness help
- Claims assessment
Discovery is typically the longest part of the lawsuit process. It takes time to do the research and gather appropriate information based on the facts and issues in each case. It also takes time for attorneys to share information, send documents, request admissions from different parties or the judge, and obtain depositions.
A motion during the civil lawsuit is specifically a written request to the judge asking for a ruling on a particular issue within the context of the case. They can be a procedural tool that sets the rules for the trial or be used to dismiss aspects of the case, or even throw out the case entirely.
I most civil cases, the motion is the most typical manner in which you interact with the judge, whether in regards to a motion your lawyer or the opposition has written.
The purpose of the trial is for both parties to present their evidence in support of their respective arguments.
Trials can be exciting but are usually very different than what you see in movies or television shows. There is not often explosive evidence or a witness ready to blow open the entire case. Instead, the trial follows a “brief,” an outline of arguments and evidence the different sides will use, which is handed to the judge before the trial begins.
Another difference between civil lawsuits in reality versus in film, is that the trial may not have a jury and could be argued only in front of the judge.
During the trial, both parties can call witnesses, introduce evidence and exhibits in support of their arguments, and cross-examine witnesses called by the opposite party. After closing arguments, the parties wait for a judgment based on the law applied to the evidence.
How long a civil trial takes really depends on the case itself. Many factors go into the length of a trial but normally, the trial once in the court takes a few days. However, the Myra Clark Gaines litigation infamously took more than 50 years but this is the longest recorded case in the history of the United States.
An appeal is the last step of a possible civil lawsuit and can occur when the losing party does not agree with the trial result. Contrary to popular opinion, an appeal does not reargue the trial.
An appeals court generally looks at the arguments of the trial looking for errors in legality made during the proceedings leading up to or during the trial. After review, the appellate court will affirm the verdict or find an error. If the latter happens, they can reverse the verdict of the lower court or order a new trial.
If you need help filing a claim, understanding California law, or simply need more information on a deposition, contactI.Donald Weissmantoday.