Litigation can be a scary process. It’s important to know the phases of litigation and what to expect.
The litigation process begins at the moment an unresolved dispute occurs. This is when an individual or company may contact a lawyer to send a demand letter or ask that a lawsuit be filed.
Complaint & Answer
If the parties are not able to resolve their dispute despite a demand being made. One of the parties (the Plaintiff) will file a Complaint, with the Court. After the Complaint is filed, a summons is issued and served. The Defendant (the person or company being sued) must timely respond to avoid a default judgment (a court order stating the Plaintiff has won). So long as the Defendant answers, the case will proceed and the parties will have the opportunity to develop their cases.
The process which parties go through to build their cases is called discovery. During this time, the parties may take depositions (sworn oral testimony). They may also serve (and answer) written discovery requests which include interrogatories (written questions), request for production (a request that evidence be produced), and requests for admissions (a request that the opposing party admit or deny certain statements). It is through discovery that parties obtain evidence relevant to claims and defenses.
Throughout the litigation process, the parties face issues which they want to bring before the Court. The request put before the Court are called Motions.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
All cases must participate in some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration, prior to going to trial. Most cases go through mediation, where a third-party mediator assists with settlement negotiations. Sometimes, the Court will order arbitration where a third party will make a non-binding ruling, which could result in settlement negotiations.
During trial, each party has the opportunity to present evidence before a judge and/or jury. After hearing the evidence, the fact finder determines whether the Defendant is liable to the Plaintiff or whether the Plaintiff is entitled to damages sought.