How does a lawsuit actually work? We live in one of the most litigious societies on the planet; however, most people have little to no idea as to what actually happens in a lawsuit.
Although there are many different types of lawsuits (too many to even briefly describe here), the majority of civil lawsuits involve one party (the Plaintiff) suing another party (the Defendant) for damages (the Money).
The lawsuit commences when the Plaintiff files a legal pleading called the Complaint against the Defendant detailing the causes of action, or legal theories as to why the Plaintiff should prevail (i.e. negligence, breach of contract, unfair or deceptive practices, fraud, etc.,). The Complaint must then be personally served on the Defendant by way of a process server or sheriff.
The Defendant must then respond to the Complaint within 20 days by admitting or denying the allegations made in the Complaint. The Defendant also has the option of alleging Affirmative Defenses (legal excuses justifying the wrong alleged by the Plaintiff), Counterclaims (suing the Plaintiff in return), or a Third-Party Complaint (suing a completely different party that is alleged to somehow be liable in the lawsuit).
The discovery phase is the lengthiest stage of a lawsuit. Discovery means exactly that: the parties work to discover all the evidence in the case, for both sides, in order to prepare for trial. Some of the more common discovery methods are the following:
(1) Request for production of documents:
A party can request all the documents, including digital data, (emails, letters, communications, contracts, records, invoices, specific documents, etc.,) from the other party. The party is required to produce those documents within a specific time frame, usually 30 days, or file objections as to why those documents should not be produced.
(2) Request for admissions:
A party can send out a list of statements requesting that the other party admit or deny the statements. For example, “Admit that on January 1, 2015 you entered into a contract with John Smith.” Admissions are binding in the lawsuit and can help narrow down the issues that will be argued at trial.
Interrogatories are written questions sent out to another party that must be answered by the other party sworn under the penalties of perjury.
Depositions are one of the most useful discovery tools used in a lawsuit. Somewhat like interrogatories, a deposition involves one party asking the other party, or any witness expected to testify in the lawsuit, questions in a live one-to-one setting under oath. A deposition gives a party the opportunity to ask the other party or witness whatever the party wants related to the case and bind the other party to whatever answers are given.
(5) Request for inspection of premises and independent medical examinations:
Depending on the content of the lawsuit, parties may request to examine a party claiming injuries by an independent medical examiner and may also request to inspect premises.
Expert witnesses may be necessary for a party to prove their case or to defend against a lawsuit. Some common expert witnesses used in lawsuits include doctors, engineers, accountants, economists, scientists, physicists, handwriting analysts, etc. For example, in a personal injury case, a doctor would be used to testify as to the severity of the injuries and impairments that result. Accountants may assist in determining money damages or valuing assets or businesses. Engineers may be necessary to evaluate structural damages sued upon. Naturally, each side in the lawsuit usually hires their own respective expert witness for each necessary category. In other words, in a personal injury case, the Plaintiff will use their own doctor as an expert to prove the severity of injuries, while the Defense will use their own expert doctor to counter the other side’s doctor.
Once the parties have gone through the discovery phase, and the parties have not been able to settle the matter, the case will be ready for trial. At trial, the parties will present the evidence obtained through discovery and question witnesses, the parties, and expert witnesses before either a judge or a jury.
The trial usually begins with opening statements made by each side (with the Plaintiff going first). Afterwards, again with the Plaintiff going first, the Plaintiff will present its case by calling up witnesses, the parties, and experts to testify. The plaintiff will directly examine each witness they choose to call and elicit favorable testimony from them. After each witness is called up by the Plaintiff to testify on direct examination, the Defense is entitled to cross-examine the witness in efforts of contradicting or discrediting their testimony. After the Plaintiff presents their evidence and calls up all their witnesses, they will rest their case. After the Plaintiff rests, then the Defense will have the opportunity to present their evidence in the same manner as the Plaintiff did, also offering the Plaintiff the opportunity to cross-examine each witness called by the Defense.
Once both parties rest, each party will present closing arguments to the judge or the jury surmising the evidence presented throughout the case. After closing arguments, the judge will enter a judgment or the jury will render a verdict in favor of one party or the other.
The summation above is a very brief outline of what happens in a lawsuit. Lawsuits tend to take several months to several years from start to finish and usually entail high costs to both parties, including attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, court costs, together with the emotional and physical toll lawsuits have on the litigants.
The Law Office of Francisco Cieza, P.A., will handle your litigation needs and aggressively fight to represent your interests. Call us at (305) 200-8748 to schedule a consultation and discuss your case with us.