The attorneys and legal professionals at Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones have collectively been involved in thousands of lawsuits, trials and court proceedings. But that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten how daunting and unfamiliar the process can feel for most people. So, we’ve assembled the following “road map” of a typical civil lawsuit so our potential and current clients can be armed with as much information as possible as they enter into litigation.
Step 1: Initial Investigation
Our attorneys are driven by a strong innate desire to help people who have wronged. But before we can proceed with any legal action we must first perform an initial investigation to gather facts and make sure there exists a solid basis before continuing. This process involves collecting information from you and any pertinent witness, studying the relevant laws pertaining to the case, and examining dates and other details to be confident in our ability to file a valid lawsuit on your behalf.
Step 2: Filing & Initial Pleadings
A lawsuit officially begins when one party (a.k.a. the Plaintiff or multiple Plaintiffs) files a “Petition or Complaint” against another (a.k.a. the Defendant or multiple Defendants). The Petition serves as notice to the defendant that they are being sued and details the allegations and claims of the lawsuit. Once the defendant receives (a.k.a. is served) these documents, it is typically granted about one month to respond (file an Answer). The defendant’s answer will set forth its asserted defenses to the Plaintiff’s claims and allegations.
Step 3: Discovery
Next is the discovery phase. Often the longest and most time-consuming phase of litigation, during this phase the opposing parties will request the other provide evidence and information deemed pertinent to the case. These typically happen via written questions (a.k.a. Interrogatories) or in-person interviews (a.k.a. Depositions) where the person answering or testifying must do so under oath. Each side may also submit Requests for Production of Documents believed relevant to the case. Testimony and written reports from expert witnesses with specialized knowledge of subject matters at hand (e.g. doctors, engineers, forensic specialists, etc.) may also be gathered at this time. During discovery, both sides will learn much about the case and be better able to judge the merits, strengths, and weaknesses of the case.
Step 4: Trial Preparation
Once Discovery is completed, both parties will take their evidence and assemble what they believe will result in the most compelling, efficient, and effective trial. During this time the parties may also participate in one or more forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR processes are intended to help the parties resolve their conflict without the necessity of continuing to trial, and may include such processes as mediation, arbitration, or settlement conferences.
Step 5: Trial
An actual trial is something most people will find at least somewhat familiar as it is often very much like what is seen on television. Most trials will take place before a jury with a judge presiding over the proceedings. Each side will be allowed to give opening statements, examine witnesses, introduce evidence, and present closing arguments. Depending on the complexity of a case, a trial may take anywhere from a day to several months. Once completed, the jury or judge will rule on behalf of one party or the other and determine if and what amount of monetary or other damages to award to the winning side.
Step 6: Post Judgement
Once the trial is over, the losing party has the right to appeal the ruling or verdict. This process can last from six months to two years. If there is no appeal, or once the appeal is over, the winning party will pursue recovery of any monetary award granted by the judge or jury.
As you can imagine, lawsuits are complex, stressful, and can take a long time to complete. This is why if you find yourself in a real fight with real consequences on the line, you need attorneys who will help you understand and prepare for every step of what lies ahead. If you have questions about the trial process or any other potential legal matters, contact a member of the Harrison Davis Steakley Morrison Jones team today.