The Civil Lawsuit Process: From Start to Finish

A civil lawsuit is different than other lawsuits as it is based on non-criminal terms. Typically, a plaintiff (the person initiating the lawsuit) files a complaint against the defendant (the person being accused) based on contractual incidents or accidents. The plaintiff is usually looking to recover money or to allow/disallow certain acts. The following process explains the steps of a civil lawsuit. 

Step 1: Consult With Representatives

If you are considering going to court, talk to your potential representatives before filing a lawsuit. Your attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid case and if it will be likely to make it to court. These consultations are confidential, making it easy to confide every detail of the case to your attorney. Your attorney will help you determine if you need to file your case with a federal or state judge.

Step 2: File Complaint / Pleading

After consulting the case with a professional, the plaintiff then files the complaint with the court and serves the defendant a copy of the complaint.  This complaint “describes the plaintiff’s damages or injury, explains how the defendant caused the harm, shows that the court has jurisdiction, and asks the court to order relief.” The defendant can then file an answer to the complaint or file a counter-claim. 

Step 3: Discovery

Once both parties have completed the pleading process they will begin to gather information to strengthen their case. The goal for both parties is to enter the trial with as much information as possible. This is typically the longest part of the civil lawsuit process. 

Sometimes, the parties will voluntarily resolve their issues before going to court through resolutions such as mediation or negotiations. In some work or insurance contracts requiring arbitration, both parties must settle the dispute before going to court.   

Step 4: Trial

The trial process starts by both parties filing a brief describing their argument and the evidence they will present. During the trial, lawyers present the case to either a jury or a judge, starting with an opening statement outlining each party’s argument–beginning with the plaintiff. The parties present their evidence and call witnesses to the stand if there are any.  After the case has been presented in full, the plaintiff and defendant will make closing statements. 

Step 5: Verdict

Depending on your trial type, the jury or judge deliberates your case and the verdict announces the verdict. A party can choose to challenge the verdict and motion for a new trial. This is common during jury trials because they don’t always understand the law or legal definitions. 

Step 6: Appeal

If a party does not agree with the verdict decided during the trial, they can appeal and present their case to an appellate court. This court will review the lawsuit and look for discrepancies. They will then either affirm the verdict or find an error. If an error is found, the appellate court may reverse the verdict or order a new trial. 

Every civil lawsuit is different and there is no set timeline to expect for your case. Even the initial step of filing a lawsuit is time-consuming. However, at Hopkins Roden, we work exceptionally hard to resolve your situation diligently and are conscientious of your time. 

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