No one enjoys going to court. However, it’s a sad fact of business today that if you are going to be in business, at some point, you will probably find yourself involved in litigation. For this reason, it helps to know the basic stages of Civil Litigation Law.
It’s first important to understand the difference between civil and criminal litigation. In criminal cases, charges are brought against someone by the government (federal, state or local) for the violation of a law. Possible penalties involve jail time or fines. However, in a civil case, the only possible remedies are financial (or, possibly, orders to do or not do something.)
A civil case begins with the filing of a complaint, which lists what the plaintiff believes the defendant has done to wrong them. At that point, the defendant should retain a lawyer and answer the complaint. There are specific timelines which must be observed for filing an answer – usually within 30 days. If the complaint is not answered timely, then the defendant may lose his or her right to defend the suit.
Once the Complaint and Answer have been filed, the parties will embark on what is called discovery. In discovery, each tries to learn information about the case by seeking documents and other information (through testimony and written interrogatories) from the other party.
Usually at some point, a party will file a motion for summary judgment – in other words, suggesting that the court should rule for it without sending the matter to trial. The court will then decide, based on the information gathered in discovery, whether there is enough evidence for the court to decide it right then and there, or to proceed to trial.
If the court rules in favor of summary judgment, either party may appeal. However, failing that, the matter will proceed to trial, and then there may be appeals.
Of course, the vast majority of lawsuits are actually settled before trial, so it is important to find an attorney who has experience not only in trying cases, but also in settling them. Attorney Jonathan Meek at Meek Law Firm has experience with both. Call him today for a consultation to learn how you can best protect your business in the event of litigation.
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