Civil litigation is a broad term. It is a legal process by which one or more parties seek court intervention to sort out a non-criminal legal dispute. Civil litigation is a type of lawsuit that can cover a wide range of subject matters: personal injury, breach of contract, landlord-tenant issues, employment matters, construction defects, real estate disputes, intellectual property issues, and more. In fact, generally speaking, anyone can sue any person at any time for any reason. However, successful litigation requires careful analysis, strategy, and argumentation. Knowledge of both the facts and applicable law is an absolute must.
Civil Litigation Process
If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit, it is important to be educated about the process. Litigation usually begins with the complaining party (the Plaintiff) filing a court document called a Complaint, which spells out the Plaintiff’s grievances against one or more Defendants. The Plaintiff serves the Complaint with a Summons (the document explaining the existence of the lawsuit) on the Defendant. The Summons and Complaint must be served in a particular way, identified in applicable state or federal court rules. The Defendant then has an opportunity to file a responsive document, called an Answer. The Answer allows the Defendant to raise defenses and, if applicable, counterclaims against the Plaintiff. The deadline for filing an Answer is very short, usually less than a month after service of the Complaint and Summons. Failure to timely file an Answer may allow the Plaintiff to receive a judgment award automatically.
Once an Answer is filed, the parties usually have an opportunity to request pertinent documents from each other via requests for production, or from third parties via subpoena. This part of the process is referred to as the “discovery phase”, and often takes several months (or even years). The parties may also take depositions (interviews recorded on the record) of each other or third parties. Discovery rules differ between states, so litigants must be aware which discovery requests are allowed and which are not. Once the parties have the necessary information to litigate, they may decide to make pretrial dispositive motions, such as motions for summary judgment, asking the court to adjudicate the dispute as a matter of law. If no such dispositive motions are granted, the parties move on to the next step: trial or arbitration.
Trial is the process by which a court adjudicates the parties’ dispute. In a courtroom, the parties put on the evidence they gathered from the discovery phase or that they already had, and then seek a remedy from a neutral finder of fact, such as a jury or judge. An arbitration proceeding works similarly, though the arbitrator makes determinations instead of a judge or jury and they are conducted in a private setting. Trial may be only half a day, several weeks, or even longer, but it is the final step before a judgement award is made.
After one or both parties are issued an award, the parties may need to use certain collection vehicles to recover the judgment amount. To facilitate the collection, Judgment liens against real property, garnishment of bank accounts, and other similar processes may be available, depending on the nature of the judgment.
Of course, the parties may decide to agree to resolve the dispute any time prior to a judgment. In fact, most cases settle before trial for a wide variety of reasons. Knowing when and how to settle requires a critical, professional study of the case’s strengths and weaknesses. Settlement is common but it is not always advisable.
Civil litigation is stressful, time-consuming, and expensive, especially if it is conducted without an experienced attorney. Whether you are trying to recover from someone who has wronged you, or you’ve been served with a summons and complaint, there’s no time to lose. Call Navigate Law Group today for a consultation.
Our Civil Litigation Attorneys
Trevor J. Cartales
Business Law | Alcohol Law | Cannabis Law | Estate Planning | Consumer Protection | Civil Litigation | Land Use Law | Entertainment Law
Brian J. Grambow
Civil Litigation | Guardianship | Probate | Real Estate Law
Colin F. McHugh
Employment Law | Personal Injury law | Business Law | Civil Litigation | Construction Law