Everyone is familiar with a lawsuit; in fact, many people will be involved in one at some point in their life. (If you’ve ever received a notification regarding a class action, you’ve likely been a party to a lawsuit.) But unfortunately, most people don’t know what to expect after filing a lawsuit.
Here we’ll go over the significant stages of a lawsuit to provide an essential roadmap of what you can expect.
It’s important to note that the simplest answer as to what to expect after filing a lawsuit is: lots of waiting. Lawsuits proceed at a pace of months and years, not days and weeks. Patience and endurance are traits for successful litigation. That said, let’s get into it.
Initial Pleadings and Motions
A document initiates a lawsuit called a complaint, which sets out the factual allegations and legal basis for the lawsuit. The complaint is filed at the courthouse, and a copy is served to the defendant. The defendant then must file an answer in which they refute the claims made in the complaint.
It is not uncommon for the defendant to make one or more motions (i.e., formal requests for action by the court) at this point. For example, they may move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, meaning that even if all the factual allegations are true, the plaintiff has no legal remedy.
Assuming the case is not dismissed at the outset, the parties will proceed to discovery. Discovery is the process by which the parties request information from each other. This may take many forms, but some of the most common discovery mechanisms are document requests, interrogatories (lists of questions for the other party to answer), and depositions.
For clients, depositions are the discovery procedure in which they are most likely to be directly involved. A deposition is similar to courtroom testimony in that a witness answers questions under oath, but they are also a little different in three ways:
- They do not occur in a courtroom but are usually conducted in a conference room.
- Only the opposing counsel will be asking questions.
- They last much longer, often for hours or even days.
After both parties have completed discovery, one or both of them will often file a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no real question as to the facts of the case so that the judge can decide the outcome as a matter of law. If the judge denies the motion for summary judgment, the case will proceed to trial.
A trial is the stage of lawsuits that people are most familiar with, and have several distinct components:
- Jury selection – From the larger jury pool, each party tries to retain jurors they think will be favorable and reject jurors they think will be unfavorable.
- Opening statements – Each party has a chance to provide the jury with a preview of the trial.
- Presentation of evidence – The plaintiff typically presents their case through documents, witness testimony, and other evidence. The defendant then presents their evidence. In some cases, the plaintiff and defendant may provide further rebuttal evidence in response.
- Closing statements – The attorneys summarize the evidence and make their final case about why the jury should decide for them.
- Deliberation – The jury retires to consider all the evidence presented to them and decide on the outcome
Sometimes the trial is the end of the matter, but sometimes one or both parties will appeal to a higher court. They may seek to overturn decisions by the trial judge or the jury. Appeals courts have busy schedules, and this process may take many months.
Talk to an Attorney about Your Case
A lawsuit is a long and arduous process that no one should attempt without a lawyer. Speaking to an experienced attorney can help you better understand the process and your prospects for prevailing in court.
If you are involved in a lawsuit, contact our office today to learn how we can help you.