Anatomy of a Lawsuit
Anatomy of a Lawsuit
A single lawsuit can take up to 2 years to resolve. Knowing this and the costs involved with each stage can help our clients plan for their involvement in a case and, if desired, when and how to try and resolve a matter early. We always provide our clients with a budget for their particular case to further understand the process and help them make important decisions along the course of the matter
Before litigation even begins, there may be opportunities to address a dispute and resolve the matter more expediently and with less expense. For our public entity clients, claimants are required to file a Government Claim, giving the public entity notice that a lawsuit may be coming. But most clients will have some indication that a dispute may lead to litigation. If you find yourself in this stage, it can be far less costly to get a lawyer involved before someone files a case and attempt to resolve the matter less formally such as through mediation, arbitration or even direct negotiation.
Ever civil lawsuit begins with the filing of a petition or a complaint. That must then be served on each of the defendants named in the suit. Then, in most cases, the defendant has between 21 and 30 days to file a response. It is very important to determine how to respond quickly so as not to exceed these strict deadlines. In some cases, it may be obvious from the complaint or petition that there are no grounds for the suit. In such cases, we will file a motion to dismiss. Importantly, and unlike other law firms, we do not recommend filing this type of motion (and having you spend the money) unless we feel certain that we can eliminate the entire lawsuit. These types of motions are hard to win as courts are making a determination on the complaint alone and not giving the parties to present evidence. But some cases will lend themselves to early dismissal and such a motion should be filed when it will likely be effective.
Discovery is the process between pleading and trial when the parties develop their case. All of the available known facts and witnesses are investigated and ascertained through various processes including interrogatories (written questions to other parties), request for documents, subpoenas and depositions. Depending on the scope of the case, the discovery process can easily take a year or longer and, as such, is the costliest part of a case. While it is important to have all the facts of your case to evaluate your chances at trial, we also encourage clients, where appropriate for the case, to consider and negotiate settlement options throughout the course of discovery to minimize costs and enable them to move on from the conflict.
After a case is developed through discovery, it may be possible to file a motion asking the Court to resolve the matter in your favor, without the time and expense of a trial. All of the evidence that has been collected is presented to the judge, briefs are written and a short hearing is held. If the Judge agrees that there is enough undisputed evidence to support a judgement in favor of one party over the other, he or she will issue such an order and the case will end.
Where a pre-trial motion is not appropriate or has failed to work, the parties will proceed to trial. Believe it or not, only 1% off all civil lawsuits that are filed make it to this point. The other 99% are either resolved by motion or settled. In fact, parties may even settle cases after trial has started but before the case goes to the jury for a decision. (In some cases, a judge, rather than a jury, will decide your case.) Depending on the scope of your case, your trial can last several days or even weeks. We also provide our clients with a budget for the trial portion of the case.