Do you know how lawsuits work? This is critical to know if you think you might need to file one yourself, and it’s also important should you ever be the target of one. Keep reading this article to learn how lawsuits work as a general process.
Lawsuits get filed daily. According to Citizens For A Sound Economy, state courts process more than 15 million lawsuits every year, costing nearly $2 billion. Product liability cases are actually half of what they were 20 years ago, but courtroom dockets still get clogged. Many courts encourage parties to settle disputes outside the courtroom, often requiring mediation prior to an actual trial.
A pre-litigation investigation is usually necessary prior to filing a lawsuit. This is where an attorney consults a client or prospective one, in order to determine the merits of the case, the likelihood of recovery, and if filing makes sense. A pre-litigation investigation might also involve the lawyer reaching out to potential witnesses, going over documents, and doing legal research.
If an attorney decides that the lawsuit is worth it, the client can then file their complaint with a clerk of court. That complaint is usually the document which details any accusations are being leveled against a defendant or group of defendants. The named defendant gets a copy of that complaint, along with the served summons, before they answer the complaint.
Defendants almost always deny any allegations leveled at them. That’s when the discovery process starts. A discovery process can include things like depositions, subpoenas for records, requests for mental and physical examinations, and interrogatories. Pre-trail conferences are typically the next step, and these happen in a courtroom, but prior to the actual trial. The intent of a pre-trial conference is allowing a judge the chance to figure out if a case needs to go either to arbitration or an actual trial.
A judge might also establish a potential date for a settlement, as well as a deadline when either side of the current case identifies their expert witnesses. A settlement conference often follows the pre-trial conference. This settlement conference might be voluntary, but it is sometimes mandatory. A mandatory settlement conference is usually scheduled and presided over by the judge assigned to the case. That judge meets both sides of any lawsuit, providing their opinions regarding the case.
The judge then attempts facilitating a potential settlement among the involved parties prior to trial. Voluntary settlements often follow a similar path, although the presiding or observing party might be a retired judge or attorney both sides consider a neutral third party. Settlement alternatives include mediation and arbitration. In arbitration, a third-party attorney or a retired judge hears evidence and arguments from both sides before rendering all of them their written decision. Mediation is a process in which a presiding party oversees discussions involving the parties resolve any difference.
The attorney’s role in a lawsuit is the zealous representation of their client in the litigation process, advising their client of all crucial case developments, as well as how they impact the values and merits of the case. A client’s role in a lawsuit, once filed, is to stay ready to give their attorney all assistance they need during the various litigation phases, including deposition, discovery, interrogatories, and investigation.