ANATOMY OF A LAWSUIT
• Litigation is the act of bringing a lawsuit against a person or company for a perceived wrong. A civil lawsuit can be settled out of court, or it can follow the steps of the litigation process. Before starting the litigation process, the wronged party, or plaintiff, usually tries to come to an agreement to resolve the conflict and avoid litigation. If no settlement can be agreed upon, the plaintiff files a complaint with the court and a copy is sent to the other party, or defendant, in the form of a summons. The defendant is given time to respond to the complaint. Once on notice, the defendant may choose to settle the case. A judge may order the suit into arbitration, in which a third party attempts to help the parties come to a compromise, or the case moves on to the next step.
• The hired attorney spends time reviewing the merits of the case, researching other legal precedents, interviewing witnesses and gathering facts. Discovery takes place between the representatives of both parties. They share information formally through written requests. Each attorney may choose to interview the other party’s witnesses in a deposition. During a deposition, the witnesses are under oath and the proceedings are recorded by a court reporter. Expert witnesses are found to testify for both sides about technical issues or bring their expertise to bear on the argument of either side by explaining what happened from their perspective. Both sides typically file motions to clarify procedures and resolve disputes prior to the trial. Sometimes evidence is asked to be held back or an attorney requests a summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case before it continues any further based on evidence that’s been gathered.
• A trial may be held in front of a jury or a judge. During the trial, both sides present their evidence. The plaintiff’s side goes first, and witnesses are called to testify, then cross-examined by the opposing counsel. After both sides present their evidence and witnesses, the attorneys speak to the jury in closing arguments that summarize their cases. The jury then leaves the room and enters a private place where they discuss the case and decide on a verdict. Once a decision has been reached, the losing party may ask for the decision to be changed by the judge. The losing party also may appeal the decision and request another court to review the case. An appeal can prolong the litigation process for up to a year or more.