What are the steps that are followed in order to bring a lawsuit?

How does a lawsuit work?  
In our society, there will always be disagreements, disputes, and injuries that are often the fault of someone else. We are able to bring our issues before judges and juries to be settled by our equals. There are many complex legal principles that can give individuals the ability to get fair compensation for their injuries. 

What has to be done to start a lawsuit?
In order to start a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff will hire an attorney to file the lawsuit. The lawyer must investigate the claim and determine whether it will be a legitimate claim. The lawyer will write a summons and the complaint which will list all the facts and the law that defendant is alleged to have violated. This is served on the defendant who then has 20 days to answer the complaint. At any time after serving the defendant with the summons and complaint, the case can be filed with the court and a judge will set up a scheduling order giving deadlines within which all the discovery (investigation by each party) will be completed and a trial date.

What does the word Discovery mean in a lawsuit?
The plaintiff's lawyer will write up questions called interrogatories asking for specific information that relates to the allegations written about in the complaint and requests for production of documents asking for specific writings that are in the possession of the defendant and any existing pre-recorded statements.  After receiving the answers to all of the above, if satisfied with the answers, the lawyers will then set up depositions for the parties and witnesses. A deposition is a recorded interview under oath. Each lawyer will ask questions of the witness who is attending and the testimony is taken down by a court reporter.

What is Mediation and when is it used?
Once the discovery is complete and all the facts of the case are known, the judge will require that the parties mediate their case with a mediator. Approximately 85% of cases settle with a mediator. A mediator is a person trained in the skill of trying to resolve the complicated legal issues between the parties to avoid the expense and stress of trial.  If the process of mediation does not settle the case, then we prepare for trial.

How does a Trial work?
If the case is not resolved through the mediation process, the case will go to trial and the lawyer must prove her client's case by the "preponderance of the evidence." This standard requires a burden of more than half, or 50% +1. The burden of proof in civil matters is much lower than in criminal matters, where the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt."  After the jury is chosen, both the Plaintiff and the Defendant's attorney gives the opening statement.  Next, the Plaintiff puts on her/his case by calling witnesses who testify for the Plaintiff.  Such witnesses would include a doctor, a family member, friends, eye witness to the accident and the Plaintiff.  After the Plaintiff's case is concluded, the Defendant presents her/his case with similar type witnesses.  At the end of the trial, the attorneys make their closing arguments. At this point, the jury is told to meet and deliberate and come up with a decision as to who wins.  This decision is known as the verdict.

For more information about the principles that are the foundation upon which our trial system is built, please see these additional F&Qs found on the Lord + Heinlein website.
1. The Role of the Plaintiff's Civil Trial Lawyer
2. Common Law vs. Statutory Law
3. How Criminal Laws Differ From Civil Laws


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