A lawsuit is a bit like venturing into the deep dark wilderness. Without a good guide in the wild, you’re likely to get lost, step into the poison ivy, or maybe even get eaten by the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Without a good guide through the legal maze of a lawsuit, you’re likely to get lost in the process, step into nasty legal weeds, or even get “eaten” by a lawyer who convinces a judge to rule against you.
At Swenson Lervick, we have guided and fought for countless people who have been involved in disputes that ended up in or could have ended up in lawsuits. We know it’s scary, so when clients come to us and say “I’ve been sued!” or “I want to sue!” we always want to make sure they understand the overall process of a lawsuit.
A lawsuit is started when someone who wants to make a legal claim (the “plaintiff”) has a complaint and summons delivered to (“served” on) whoever is on the other side (the “defendant”). The complaint is set of statements that describe in general terms the plaintiff’s factual and legal basis for the suit and the relief they want to get from the defendant. The summons tells the defendant what to do in response to the complaint.
After the lawsuit is started, the parties exchange information about the case. Sometimes this is done informally, but oftentimes the parties engage in “discovery.” The discovery phase might include answering written questions (“interrogatories”), questioning the parties and witnesses in person and under oath (“depositions”), and producing documents related to the case.
Early on in the process, the case typically gets filed with the court. A judge is then assigned, and the judge will issue a scheduling order that sets a trial date and all of the other deadlines leading up to trial.
At any point during the case, the parties may file requests with the court. These are called motions, and they can be filed for many reasons. For example, one side may want to compel the other side to respond to a discovery request. They may want certain evidence excluded from trial. Or, they can even ask to dismiss the case.
Ultimately, the case could go to trial where the judge or sometimes a jury decides the case. This entire process is governed by detailed rules such as the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, and the court’s General Rules of Practice. And, the rules and processes can be different for certain types of cases and in different courts.
Despite our best efforts to economically and swiftly guide lawsuits through the judicial wilderness, they can be tremendously expensive and take a year or more to complete. And, of course, a bad outcome in court is always a risk. Because of this, almost every case goes through some form of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) which is an effective way for the parties to try and resolve their dispute without the expense and risk of a trial.
We hope you’re never involved in a lawsuit. But if you are, give us call. We’re here to guide you through all aspects of your case so that you don’t get lost in the process (or eaten alive!).